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What is PCOS?
April 27, 2022

What is PCOS?

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a hormonal disorder that affects reproductive-age women. While some people are born with the genetic code that causes it, others develop it later in life. Learn about its causes, symptoms and treatment options.

One in every 10 women of childbearing age is affected by PCOS. It has no definite cure, but there are ways to manage the symptoms. If you think you may have PCOS, talk to your doctor about getting tested. Don't suffer in silence — there are steps you can take to manage the condition and improve your health.

PCOS defined

To properly address PCOS, we must first answer the question, "What is PCOS?" because it is frequently misunderstood. PCOS is caused by a hormonal imbalance caused by the ovaries producing an abnormally large amount of androgens, which are male sex hormones found in small amounts in women.

Approximately ten percent of women with this condition develop a large number of small cysts (fluid-filled sacs) in their ovaries, which are responsible for producing abnormal androgen levels, causing problems with fertility, menstruation and insulin production, as well as weight gain, acne, excess hair growth and hair loss.

What are the symptoms of PCOS?

PCOS symptoms vary from person to person as they are determined by the underlying cause of the disease. Some women notice the symptoms as soon as they get their first period, while others notice them after gaining excess weight. The following are the five most common PCOS symptoms:

  • Irregular periods
  • Heavy bleeding
  • Pelvic pain
  • Infertility
  • Excess hair growth

Other common symptoms include acne or oily skin, skin tags, painful periods, hair loss, and a dark skin patch in hidden areas of the body, such as the armpits, under the breasts, and in the groin. PCOS also increases the risk of developing cardiovascular disease or having a heart attack.

How do you develop PCOS?

There is no single cause of PCOS; rather, it is the result of a combination of genetic and environmental factors. The majority of women suffering from the condition are insulin resistant or have type 2 diabetes. Obese women are also more prone to PCOS than those with a healthy weight.

The most widely accepted theory is that PCOS is caused by inherited genes that cause hormonal imbalances. Having a mother or sister who has PCOS increases your chances of developing it. But, more research is needed in this area!

Is there a cure for PCOS?

There is no cure for PCOS, but the symptoms can be managed with medication and lifestyle changes. A PCOS treatment plan often includes birth control pills, anti-androgens and metformin. Changes in lifestyle, such as a healthy diet, regular exercise and stress reduction, can also aid in the management of this medical condition.

PCOS can affect your ability to get pregnant. If you have PCOS and are trying to conceive, you may need to see a fertility specialist who can guide you.

What is the recommended diet for women with PCOS?

There is no one-size-fits-all PCOS diet, but there are some general nutritional guidelines that can help. A healthy diet for PCOS should be high in fibre and low in refined carbs and sugar. It’s also important to eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, lean protein and healthy fats. Some women with PCOS find that cutting out dairy or gluten helps to improve their symptoms. Everyone is different, so it’s important to experiment with different dietary changes to see what works for you. Working with a health professional can really help.

According to research, eating foods with a low glycemic index helps regulate the menstrual cycle, which is an effective way to address the painful symptoms of PCOS. Some of these foods are:

  • Broccoli
  • Legumes
  • Peppers
  • Tomatoes
  • Lettuce
  • Cashews
  • Eggplants
  • Strawberries
  • Pears
  • Apples
  • Plain yoghurt
  • Dark chocolate

Although PCOS cannot be prevented, early detection and treatment can help reduce symptoms and the risk of complications. Talk to your doctor about possible treatment options that are suitable for you. There are also many resources available to help you learn more about PCOS. Connecting with other women who are dealing with the same challenges will also be beneficial. With proper care, you can manage PCOS and feel better every day!

Dr Michelle Woolhouse

Integrative GP and Vively Medical Director

Dr Michelle Woolhouse is an integrative GP, with over 20 years experience treating chronic conditions through lifestyle medicine