What is PCOS?

21st December 2021

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is now known as the most common endocrine disorder in women, who are of a reproductive age. Endocrine relates to glands which take hormones directly into the bloodstream. According to the NHS, 1 in every 10 women in the UK will be affected by PCOS. This condition is so common, yet it’s rarely discussed. What exactly is PCOS? How could it affect you and your fertility? Can it be cured?

 

 

What is Polycystic Ovary Syndrome?

PCOS is an extremely complicated condition which affects your hormones. The literal translation of polycystic is “many cysts”. This is referring to the follicles which are partially formed on the ovaries, each of which contain an egg. Rarely, will these grow to produce eggs that are able to be fertilised. For women who have PCOS, they usually have a large amount of insulin that doesn’t work effectively, or they can have male hormones known as androgens. Some women have both. However insulin resistance is thought to be present in 4 out of 5 women who have PCOS.

But what causes PCOS? Unfortunately, the cause is not yet known. Genetics, hormone balances and lifestyle choices are known to play a factor. What is known is that if you are a woman with a close relative who has been diagnosed with PCOS, then you have a 50% higher chance of developing the condition yourself. Your family heritage can also play a part in your likelihood of developing PCOS, as it is found more in women with Asian, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and African backgrounds.

 

What are the symptoms of PCOS?

There are a range of symptoms that women who have PCOS may experience:

  • Irregular menstrual cycles

Periods may be less frequent or more frequent due ovulation (the releasing of an egg) occurring less often.

  • Periods may stop altogether

Some women with PCOS do not menstruate at all, sometimes lasting years.

  • Excessive hair growth

Women with PCOS often see an increase of hair growth on their face in traditionally masculine areas such as above the top lip and along the jaw line. Excess hair can also grow on the body, for example on the arms and stomach.

  • Acne
  • Scalp hair loss
  • A difficulty to become pregnant

Sadly for many women who have PCOS, a side effect which can be the hardest to accept is a difficulty to not only become pregnant, but to continue the pregnancy to full term. Women with PCOS are three times more likely to miscarriage in their first trimester.

  • Random and unexplained mood changes

This can include anxiety and depression.

  • Obesity

For many women with PCOS, they will tend to be heavier and can have trouble losing weight if they so wish to do so.

  • Sleep apnoea

 

 

Is PCOS treatable?

PCOS sadly cannot be cured, so this means that the long-term health implications and symptoms must be well-managed in order to avoid causing other health issues.

A management plan will usually be created depending on the person and their individual lifestyle and health, however typical efforts to main PCOS can include:

  • Lifestyle changes

A healthy diet and exercise regime is essential. By increasing your levels of physical activity and by eating a healthy diet, you can help to manage the effects of PCOS felt every day. For women who have PCOS, a healthy lifestyle can improve symptoms, particularly if you are overweight and your new lifestyle helps you to lose weight.

  • Weight reduction

As previously mentioned, women who have PCOS can often experience problems regarding their weight. On average, these women tend to be on the heavier side so if an effort is made to lower your weight, research has shown that even a 5-10% per cent weight loss can provide large health benefits. These health benefits include restoring a normal hormone production, which can help to regulate your periods and in turn, improve fertility! It’ll also improve your mood and reduce certain symptoms of PCOS e.g. hair growth, scalp hair loss and acne.

 

Is medical treatment available for PCOS?

There are some treatment options for those who wish to treat their PCOS with medical intervention. These treatments include:

  • Contraceptive pill

The oral contraceptive pill can be prescribed to help regulate the menstrual cycle. It can also reduce any excess hair growth, acne and can prevent the lining of the womb to excessively thicken.

  • Hormone blockers

Medication such as testosterone can be used to reduce the excess hair growth or to slow down the hair loss on the scalp.

  • Insulin sensitising medications

For those who have a resistance to insulin, these medications have proven very useful. They can also help with regulating menstrual cycles, improving egg production and improving fertility. They can help you to avoid diabetes and can also assist with any weight loss efforts.

  • Infertility medication

Medications to aid fertility have been known to help with PCOS as they can aid egg production.

 

Many women with PCOS struggle with their fertility. At UK Meds, our range of fertility treatments from Babystart, can help you along this journey. From fertility supplements, sperm-friendly lubricant to ovulation tests, we hope to make the complicated and overwhelming world of fertility easy to navigate.