What is PCOS?

I remember at the age of 17 being told I had PCOS, given a prescription for the contraceptive pill and sent on my way. This was scary for a teenager; only told the name of the condition and not really knowing what this condition could mean for me – present and future – and how to manage it correctly. I would never wish that feeling of “being left in the dark” on anyone. So, I have written this blog to give you a brief introduction to PCOS; whether you have already been diagnosed or suspect you have it.

Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (simply known as PCOS) is one of the most common hormonal disorders affecting women. Polycystic Ovaries is the term used to describe ovaries which contain more small cysts than a regular ovary which are usually no bigger than 8 millimetres each and are located just below the surface of the ovaries. These cysts are egg-containing follicles which have not properly developed because of hormonal abnormalities. The term “Polycystic Ovary Syndrome” is used for a condition where women with polycystic ovaries have one or more additional symptoms.

normal-ovary-vs-polycystic-ovary

Normal Ovary v.s. Polycystic Ovary

Symptoms:

PCOS affects different women in different ways. Symptoms may include:

  • Irregular or no periods
  • Difficulty getting pregnant
  • Excessive hair growth (Hirsutism) – usually on face, chest, back or buttocks
  • Weight gain, especially around the tummy
  • Thinning hair/hair loss from head
  • Oily Skin with acne
  • Emotional manifestations – depression, anxiety, irritability and mood swings
  • Insulin resistance
  • Metabolic syndrome
  • Sleep problems and fatigue/exhaustion

The cause of PCOS is currently unknown. It is thought to be due to abnormal hormone levels.

Diagnosis:

To get a diagnosis of PCOS, the first step is to visit your GP. Your GP may then refer you for the following tests:

  • Ultrasound scan – This procedure uses high-frequency sound waves and allows an image of the organ being scanned to be seen on a special computer screen. It is completely safe. The specialist will scan the ovaries to see if they are enlarged or if cysts are present. Before the scan, you will probably be asked to have a full bladder (this will be done by drinking around 2 pints of water and not going to the toilet) so the sonographer can get a clear enough image
  • Hormone tests – You may be referred for some blood tests. These tests show up any disturbed levels of hormones which control ovulation and give an indication that PCOS may be the problem
  • Other possible tests: Glucose tolerance test, fasting glucose level test and blood cholesterol measurements

Treatment:

The symptoms of PCOS can be controlled by making lifestyle changes. These are:

  • Diet
  • Exercise
  • Emotional well-being

Diet:

Diet is one of (if not the) most important factors in controlling PCOS. A PCOS-friendly diet helps to:

  • Lose weight and maintain a healthy weight
  • Reduce insulin resistance and therefore, reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes
  • Reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease
  • Ensure a balanced and nutritionally adequate dietary intake

Top tips for a PCOS diet:

  • Eat regular meals – breakfast, lunch, dinner and 2 snacks
  • Follow a low-GI diet
  • Cut down on unhealthy fats – saturated and trans fats – which are found in products such as fatty meat, cakes, pastry, etc.
  • Cut down on salt
  • Aim to eat 5 portions of fruit and vegetables daily
  • Cut down of refined sugar

Exercise:

Exercise has huge impact on reducing PCOS symptoms. The benefits include:

  • Helps maintain weight loss
  • Improves the relative amount of muscle to fat and improves overall body shape
  • Improves insulin sensitivity
  • Increases good cholesterol in the blood (HDL)
  • Reduces blood pressure
  • Decreases the risk of developing heart disease and diabetes
  • Improves bone density so reduces the risk of developing osteoporosis (brittle bones)
  • Improves psychological health such as, self-confidence, self-image and depression/anxiety

Top tips for exercise:

  • You don’t have to go to an expensive gym; you can exercise at home, go for a brisk walk, cycle or jog
  • Do something you enjoy; dance, swimming, etc.
  • Plan to do exercise that fits into your lifestyle so you can keep it up
  • If time is a barrier, incorporate exercise into your daily routine such as performing squats while doing the cleaning or cycling to the shops
  • Don’t be too ambitious otherwise you will never keep it up. Build it up gradually.

Emotional well-being:

PCOS can be a major stressor in the sufferer’s life. It can often lead to feelings of low self-esteem, anxiety and loss of control. Take time for yourself, breath, exercise, do yoga, eat well, make sure you get enough sleep, hydrate and smile.

Other treatment:

Your doctor will most likely prescribe you the contraceptive pill – especially if you have missed periods. Talk to your doctor about what strain of the pill is best for you as there are various strengths of the pill and it depends on what your symptoms are and the severity of them.

Finally:

Relax … PCOS might seem like a disaster but it isn’t. Look at celebrities like Victoria Beckham and Daisy Ridley who have overcome their PCOS diagnosis to have a successful life, maintain a normal weight, have great skin and go on to have children. With proper treatment and lifestyle choices, it is possible to lead a normal and happy life.

In future blogs, I will be discussing my experience with PCOS; from diagnosis to life with the condition to the discovery that my PCOS is gone. In the meantime, if you have any questions or would like assistance in managing your PCOS, do not hesitate to contact me.

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