Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a condition that affects a woman’s hormone levels and is common among women of reproductive age. Women with PCOS produce higher-than-normal amounts of male hormones called androgens. The exact cause of PCOS is unknown but genetics may be a factor.
PCOS affects women’s ovaries, the reproductive organs that produce estrogen and progesterone hormones that regulate the menstrual cycle. As a result, there is elevated production of androgen.
“Androgen is associated with many of the symptoms including irregular periods, reduced fertility, acne, weight gain that is difficult to shed off, and abnormal hair distribution. Long-term effects that may not be immediately apparent include disordered glucose control leading to diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease,” said Dr. Sikolia Wanyonyi, an Obstetrician Gynecologist and Foetal Medicine Specialist at Aga Khan University Hospital
According to Dr. Wanyonyi, diagnosis is made following symptoms, hormone tests, and ultrasound imaging of the ovaries. The ovaries are usually enlarged with multiple follicles or small cysts, hence the description of polycystic ovaries. However, some women will have a polycystic appearance of the ovaries without having the syndrome.
Dr. Wanyonyi states that PCOS has no cure but can be managed through healthy eating habits coupled with exercises to maintain a normal weight and reverse most of the symptoms and associated consequences. Women should aim for a body mass index (BMI) between 19 and 25. As a result, periods become more regular, the skin and hair changes reverse, and chances of spontaneous pregnancy increase.
“Hormone tablets can also be used to induce regular periods and reverse physical changes. Skin and hair changes may take longer to improve and some women will need to incorporate cosmetic measures like shaving.”
“Attaining a normal BMI is an important initial step, however, some women will require ovulation medications and if given and monitored appropriately, there is a higher chance of conceiving. Ovarian surgical procedures are only considered as the last result”, Dr. Wanyonyi further notes.
Follow-up for long-term health effects should be discussed with your Gynecologist. Regular blood sugar checks, blood pressure monitoring, and related cardiovascular assessment may be advised.