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Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, commonly known by its initials PCOS, is a condition that affects the functions of a woman’s ovaries. This includes irregular ovulation and the development of fluid-filled sacs, causing the enlargement of the ovaries. Many women with the condition will find themselves struggling to conceive. Women with PCOS have higher levels of male hormones present and are also less sensitive to the hormone insulin.
Although it is not known how many women suffer with PCOS, it is estimated that as many as one in ten women experience the condition. More than half will not demonstrate any PCOS symptoms.
Unfortunately women with PCOS are at an increased risk of developing serious health problems, such as high cholesterol and type 2 diabetes.
There is no cure for the condition, but there are a number of PCOS treatments which can help to ease symptoms, including medicines to help fertility problems, irregular periods and excessive hair growth, another common PCOS symptom. If fertility medication does not work, doctors may recommend a surgical procedure called laparoscopic ovarian drilling.
Lifestyle changes have also been shown to improve the symptoms of PCOS in some women. Eating a healthy balanced diet and losing weight if you are overweight or obese may help.
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There are a number of common PCOS symptoms. If you are experiencing some or all of these then you should speak to your doctor.
PCOS symptoms usually become apparent in your late teens or early 20s. You may not experience all the above symptoms and some women find they only experience problems with their periods and/or difficulty conceiving. All PCOS symptoms can vary from mild to severe.
It is not known exactly what causes polycystic ovary syndrome, but there are several things which may have a part to play.
If you are experiencing PCOS symptoms, you should make an appointment to see a doctor. They will ask you questions about your symptoms. Although you may find it embarrassing, it is important that you answer open and honestly. Rest assured that our expert consultants will treat you with the respect and dignity you deserve.
A physical exam will be carried out to check for external PCOS symptoms, such as excessive hair growth and acne. A sample of blood will be taken to test your hormone levels and glucose levels.
The doctor will want to carry out an transvaginal ultrasound scan to see whether there are any fluid-filled sacs present on your ovaries. An ultrasound probe will be inserted into the vagina and the images will appear on a screen to allow the doctor to see clearly what is going on inside your body. Although this may sound a little daunting, rest assured that the probe is lubricated and the scan itself does not hurt, although some women report feeling a mild discomfort. If you are concerned about this, speak to your doctor.
Although there is no cure for polycystic ovary syndrome, there are a number of PCOS treatments which will help to ease symptoms and improve your quality of life.
If you are overweight or obese, the best thing you can do to manage the symptoms of PCOS is to lose weight. This will also lower the chances of you developing long-term health problems caused by PCOS.
The safest and most effective way to lose weight is through regular exercise and a healthy, well-balanced diet. Your PCOS diet should include at least five daily portions of fruit and vegetables, whole foods, such as brown rice and wholegrain cereals, fish, chicken and lean meats. Ideally, you should be doing at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity a week, as well as strength training three times a week.
You should aim to get to a healthy BMI of 18.5 to 24.9.
There are a number of different types of medication available to treat the various symptoms of PCOS. Hormonal contraceptives, such as pills or an IUD, will help to regulate periods and treat acne and excess hair growth. Fertility drugs can induce ovulation if you have been trying to conceive.
Medicines which block the release of male hormones can be used to treat hirsutism and hair loss. A cream called eflornithine can be used to slow down the growth of unwanted facial hair, and you will be able to see the effects within four to eight weeks.
Other medicines include acne treatments, weight-loss medicine, such as orlistat, if you are overweight and statins if you have high cholesterol.
Laparoscopic ovarian drilling (LOD) is a minor surgical procedure which can be used to treat fertility problems caused by PCOS if your body does not respond to medication.
You will be put under general anaesthetic, meaning you will not be able to feel any pain, and a Under general anaesthetic, your doctor will make a small incision in your lower abdomen and a long, thin surgical instrument called a laparoscope will be used to treat the ovaries by destroying the androgen-producing tissues. LOD effectively addresses the hormone imbalance and restores normal ovarian function.
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When should I see a doctor?
Although PCOS cannot be cured, the symptoms can be successfully managed. If you are experiencing symptoms of PCOS, such as excessive hair growth, acne, hair loss or irregular periods, you should see your doctor for further tests.
If you are trying to get pregnant but have not conceived after one year of trying, then you should go to the doctor. Tests will be carried out to find out what may be causing the infertility, including PCOS. Once the cause has been found, you can then be treated accordingly.
What can I do to manage symptoms of PCOS at home?
The best way to manage your PCOS symptoms at home is to follow a healthy diet plan, making sure you get enough fruit and vegetables, wholefoods, protein, fibre, iron and magnesium. A dietician will be able to put together a healthy eating plan for you to follow.
You should exercise regularly, aim to get between eight and ten hours of quality sleep a night and keep your stress levels in check. This will help to regulate cortisol to balance your hormones.
Does PCOS go away on its own?
There is currently no cure for PCOS and it does not go away on its own. Even after menopause, once a woman’s menstrual periods have stopped permanently, you will continue to have high levels of androgens and insulin in your body. This means that you are still at risk of complications from PCOS, such as developing type 2 diabetes or high cholesterol. If you are postmenopausal and experiencing PCOS symptoms, you should speak to your doctor.
How does PCOS affect your body?
PCOS can affect your body in a number of different ways. Not all women with PCOS will experience these.
Can PCOS trigger acne?
Acne and oily skin are very common symptoms of polycystic ovary syndrome. Luckily there are a number of prescription medicines which can help to manage this particular PCOS symptom. Acne treatments include topical antibiotics, antibiotic tablets, the combined oral contraceptive pill, topical retinoids and azelaic acid. Your doctor will be able to recommend which treatment is best for you.
How does my diet impact PCOS symptoms?
As mentioned before, women with PCOS who are overweight or obese are at a heightened risk of PCOS complications, such as sleep apnoea and developing endometrial cancer. Weight loss can improve insulin sensitivity, cutting the risk of developing complications such as diabetes. Being overweight or obese can also trigger certain PCOS symptoms, for example irregular periods. So losing weight, by eating a healthy balanced diet, will both cut the risk of PCOS complications as well as improving symptoms.
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