PCOS: What is it?

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Jane Mann
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Most people within the UK are aware that a teal coloured ribbon is the symbol for some certain type of cancer. Some people within the UK are aware that the teal ribbon is the symbol for cervical cancer. However, very few people know that this same coloured ribbon is also a symbol for a medical condition known as Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS).

What is PCOS?

Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome is a hormonal condition that affects 1 in 10 women of child-bearing age. Doctors are unsure what causes PCOS, other than an imbalance of hormones within the body. It can however be passed genetically from parents to child as both men and women can experience some of the symptoms and carry the syndrome. Symptoms usually begin to manifest themselves around puberty, however these symptoms can be aggravated or even triggered by various other issues, such as childbirth or some hormonal forms of birth control. If left untreated, PCOS can lead women to suffer heart disease and diabetes, and also puts those with the condition at a higher risk of certain types of hormonal and reproductive cancers. A diagnosis for this condition can be hard to get, however a doctor will be able to give an accurate diagnosis by use of full blood testing to check on hormone levels, and thyroid testing. Often a pelvic scan is carried out, although this is usually checking ovaries for cysts, it is also used to check the thickness of the womb lining. A pelvic scan is not an accurate way to diagnose PCOS as many women don’t have cysts, and in fact some women only develop cysts at certain times in their menstrual cycle.

 

What are the symptoms of PCOS?

The symptom range for PCOS is very broad. Many women only find out they have the condition when they are trying to conceive a child, some find out with the absence of or sporadic arrival of their periods. Some of the more talked about symptoms can include abnormal periods (irregular, lacking entirely or constant), cysts on the ovaries (some ladies have been known to refer to these as their ‘pearls’), acne, excess facial and body hair and rapid weight gain. However not everyone experiences the same range of severity of symptoms, hence the name ‘syndrome’. Some women have no excess body hair, but instead may experience ‘male pattern baldness’ and thinning hair. This is often not recognised as a symptom, however it is much more common than people think. Much of these symptoms are caused by an imbalance of hormones within the body. Many women have raised levels of the male hormone, testosterone, others have lower oestrogen levels while some have an imbalance of FSH (follicle-stimulating hormone) and LH (luteinizing hormone).

Most people are not fully aware that Insulin can contribute to PCOS issues.

Another risk with PCOS is very erratic insulin levels, as alongside wrecking havoc on hormones and potentially causing weight issues, this can also contribute to an eventual diabetes diagnosis. An underlying condition, that does not always affect everyone, is insulin resistance. This is where the levels of insulin within the body are far too high, over a long period of time which leads to the body becoming more sensitive to the high level of insulin production. This can then lead to prediabetes or diabetes type 2. A GP can carry out a simple blood test to check insulin levels, with a referral to a specialist put into motion if need be.

Can it be 'fixed'?

Although as of yet there is no cure for PCOS, it can be managed through certain medications and often a controlled diet. Being overweight can cause a lot of issues with insulin levels, which in turn can aggravate symptoms, however not everyone with the condition has weight issues. Often people associate PCOS and being overweight and assume that a thin women could not have the syndrome, however the hugely varying symptom list means that there are multiple signs and symptoms where you should seek medical advice. However, with PCOS weight loss isn’t always the easiest achievement. A low-GI diet is recommended, alongside regular exercise. Crash dieting is never a healthy route to take.

An often neglected symptom of PCOS is vitamin deficiency. Often women with this condition suffer from vitamin D deficiency, and vitamin D can be very important with regards to menstrual cycles. Other deficiencies can include, but are not limited to, B12 sublingual, B100 (known as B-complex vitamins) and omega three. A GP should be able to help with diagnosis of any deficiencies with blood testing.

What can I do next?

In this situation its best to ensure first and foremost that you make an effort to look after yourself, with regards to eating well and exercising. Regular, gentle exercise can and will make a huge difference when it comes to symptom management. Eating properly is also of great benefit to 

If you have any of these symptoms, or perhaps you’ve been diagnosed and feel alone and unsupported pop along to Facebook. There is a group, called PCOS Tribe UK (https://www.facebook.com/groups/485179391668144/) where you can join discussions, and get advice if needed. There are also files containing information about diet, medication and weight loss.

When I was first diagnosed the women within this group were an incredible help. They offered well-researched advice and are an incredibly supportive group. GP's often don't have an excessive amount of knowledge about PCOS and because of this, their advice can occasionally be viewed as abrupt or unhelpful - weight loss is almost always suggested, even though that can be very difficult (but not impossible) to achieve - or if weight loss is not going to help (women of all shapes and sizes can have PCOS) a form of hormonal contraception - which often 'masks' symptoms instead of offering long term symptom management - is usually the next suggestion. The knowledge within this one small group is really wonderful, and the women involved have built it up from nothing, and are very helpful. 

The most important thing to remember when it comes to Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome is that its NOT a finality, and its NOT an unmanageable syndrome. It just happens to be one that occasionally likes to fight back. But we're women. We're tough. We're all 'warriors' in PCOS Tribe, and we do just fine. 

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