Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, PCOS, is a hormone-related condition which affects one in ten women in the UK.
Even though PCOS is such a common concern, there can often be much confusion surrounding the condition, the warning signs you should look out for, and how the symptoms can be managed.
As September marks PCOS Awareness Month, here Dr.Àlex García-Faura, fertility expert at the internationally leading fertility clinic Institut Marques, provides some clarity on the topic.
PCOS and what causes it
Dr. Àlex García-Faura says:“PCOS is caused by many immature follicles which grow on the ovaries and subsequently cause an imbalance of hormones. This hormone imbalance can cause irregular periods, and can also present problems for a woman when she tries to conceive. If PCOS is not treated effectively, it can also result in some more serious health concerns, for example, heart disease and diabetes.”
The cause is unclear
Dr.Àlex García-Faura says: “Despite the growing number of women who are being diagnosed with PCOS, there is still plenty of questions within the medical profession as to what causes the condition. Many people believe that the condition is hereditary but, this has still not been scientifically proven.
"What we do know is, however, is that women suffering from PCOS have a hormone imbalance which is a key contributing factor. More specifically, those women with PCOS are known to have increased levels of testosterone; protein, Prolactin; ovulation hormone, LH; and can also be lacking in SHBG (sex hormone-binding globulin)– which increases the effect of testosterone.”
The symptoms of PCOS can vary
Dr. Àlex García-Faura says: “For women who suffer from PCOS, the most common symptoms include:
- Difficulty getting pregnant
- Weight gain
- Irregular periods
- Hair loss from the head
- Excessive hair growth all over the body
Not only do women with PCOS have to deal with these symptoms above, but they are more vulnerable to other more serious health problems later in life, this can include, high cholesterol, depression, and sleep apnoea.
The symptoms associated with PCOS will vary between individuals, with some people suffering more severe symptoms than others.”
You may have PCOS and not know it
Dr. Àlex García-Faura says: “As the symptoms associated with PCOS are so varied, and can be associated with a lot of other medical conditions, unfortunately, many women do not receive the correct diagnosis for PCOS, or are left undiagnosed.
If you are suffering from any of the symptoms associated with PCOS then I would advise that you visit your GP and ask them to carry out the necessary checks to rule out other conditions. Following a diagnosis, you may be referred to a PCOS specialist who will be able to help advise you on the best way to manage the symptoms you are experiencing.”
There is no cure
Dr.Àlex García-Faura says:“Unfortunately, there is no known cure for PCOS however, you can manage your symptoms in a number of ways.
For example, women who suffer from missed or irregular periods are often advised to go on the contraceptive pill which can help to regulate a more frequent cycle.
For those who have a high BMI, losing weight could have a positive effect - as studies have found that reducing body weight by 5% in overweight women, could have an encouraging effect on PCOS.
If you suffer from PCOS and are trying to get pregnant then it is recommended that you visit a fertility specialist. They will be able to give you a fertility MOT and advise whether it is necessary for medication to be taken.”