What is Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS)?

Dr Foram Bhuta

Dr Foram Bhuta

BDS (Bachelor of Dental Surgery), 10 years of experience

December 6, 2021 Womens Health 417 Views

English हिन्दी Bengali

What is the meaning of Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome?

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a common hormonal disorder that is seen in women of reproductive age.

Women having PCOS produce a higher level of male hormones than what is considered normal. This hormone imbalance causes them to skip their periods and makes it difficult for them to get pregnant.  PCOS can also lead to problems like baldness, growth of hair on the body and the face. Long-term health disorders like heart disease and diabetes can also occur due to PCOS.

Nowadays, infertility due to PCOS has become very common in women. PCOS leading to infertility is normally seen between the ages of 15 and 30. One in 10 women in India suffers from PCOS.  Many women are unable to get proper treatment for PCOS due to a lack of knowledge about it.

In today’s article, we will tell you in detail about PCOS.

  • What are the types of PCOS? 
  • What are the causes of PCOS?
  • What are the symptoms of PCOS?
  • How to diagnose PCOS?
  • What are the treatments for PCOS?
  • What are the complications of PCOS?
  • How to prevent PCOS?

What are the types of PCOS? 

There are mainly four types of PCOS:

Insulin-resistant PCOS:

  • This is the most common type of PCOS. 
  • In this type of PCOS, the insulin (a hormone made by the pancreas) produced by the body becomes less effective. 
  • It causes the blood sugar levels of the body to become unbalanced. 
  • Excessive insulin levels inhibit ovulation (release of an egg from the ovaries) and trigger the ovaries to produce testosterone (male sex hormone or androgen). 
  • Insulin resistance occurs in those people who are obese, have high sugar intake, or are smokers.

Inflammatory PCOS: 

  • Due to inflammation, ovulation is prevented, hormones get imbalanced, and androgens are produced.
  • Inflammation is caused by stress, environmental toxins, and an inflammatory diet such as gluten.
  • If you have symptoms such as headache, infection, or skin allergies, and your blood tests show that you are deficient in vitamin D, your blood count is not normal, thyroid levels are increased, then you may have inflammatory PCOS. 

Hidden-cause PCOS:

  • This is a simpler form of PCOS. Once the cause is addressed it takes about three to four months to resolve. 
  • Hidden causes of PCOS could include thyroid disease, iodine deficiency (the ovaries need iodine), a vegetarian diet (this makes you zinc deficient, and the ovaries need zinc), and artificial sweeteners. 
  • If you are already trying several natural remedies for PCOS and nothing seems to be working, then consult a doctor and gather more information about it.

Pill-induced PCOS:

  • This is the second most common type of PCOS. 
  • It develops because of birth control pills that suppress ovulation. 
  • For most women, these effects don’t last long, and they resume ovulating once the effect of the pill is over. But some women do not resume ovulating for months and years even after the effects of the pills have worn off. 
  • If you experience regular and normal periods before starting with the birth control pills, then it could be a sign of pill-induced PCOS. 
  • When a blood test shows an increase in the luteinizing hormone (a hormone that helps in ovulation) levels, it could indicate pill-induced PCOS.

( Know more about- What are Birth Control Pills? Types, Uses, Side Effects )

What are the causes of PCOS?

The exact cause of PCOS is unknown. However, the following factors are known to play a role in causing PCOS:

  • High level of male sex hormones (androgens): The problem of PCOS occurs due to the imbalance of hormones. A high level of androgens can prevent the female ovaries from releasing eggs (ovulation) leading to the formation of small, fluid-filled sacs in the ovaries. This causes PCOS.
  • Genetics: According to some research, heredity can be one of the reasons behind PCOS as there are some genes that can be linked to PCOS.
  • Insulin resistance: Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas and is known to be the primary energy supplier of the body. When the body becomes resistant to the actions of insulin, the blood sugar level rises rapidly and that can cause the body to produce more insulin. Excess insulin can increase the production of androgens which can cause difficulties upon ovulation.

( Know more about- What is Diabetes? Types, Causes, Symptoms, Treatments, Precautions )

  • Low-grade inflammation: This condition is related to the blood cells. Studies show that all women who have PCOS have a type of low-grade inflammation that leads to the production of androgens.

What are the symptoms of PCOS?

The symptoms of PCOS are as follows:

  • Thinning of hair
  • Trouble with fertility
  • Irregular periods or menstruation

( Know more about- What are irregular periods? Causes, Symptoms, Treatments, Prevention )

  • Weight gain
  • Depression
  • Abnormal hair growth on the body
  • Darkening of the skin
  • Cyst (small pockets of fluid) formation in the ovaries 
  • Acne 
  • Skin tags (little flaps of extra skin) in the neck or armpit region
  • Headache

( Know more about- What is Hormonal Imbalance in Females? Causes, Symptoms, Treatments )

How to diagnose PCOS?

  • Physical examination: The doctor will physically examine the patient and ask about the medical history of the patient, including menstrual periods and weight fluctuations. The doctor will also check for any signs of acne, insulin resistance, or extra hair growth.
  • Pelvic exam: The doctor will insert one or two of his gloved fingers into the vagina to inspect the reproductive organs for any growths, masses, or abnormalities.
  • Blood tests: A blood test is useful in measuring the hormone levels of the body. It also helps to exclude any other possible causes of menstrual irregularities or an excess amount of androgen, that may mimic PCOS. Blood tests also help in checking the glucose and cholesterol levels of the patient.
  • Ultrasound: Sound waves are used to obtain clear images of the reproductive organs of the body in an ultrasound. The appearance of the ovaries and the thickness of the womb (uterus) lining can be checked using an ultrasound.
  • The doctor will typically confirm the diagnosis of PCOS if the patient has at least two of the following:
  • Cysts on one or both the ovaries.
  • Signs of an excess level of androgens, like excessive hair growth or acne; or a blood test confirming an increase in the levels of the androgen.
  • Missed periods, irregular periods, or periods with heavy menstrual periods.

What are the treatments for PCOS?

The treatment for PCOS is based on the symptoms of the patient, along with the medical history and other health conditions of the patient.

If a woman does not plan to get pregnant, treatment can include:

  • Hormonal birth control: The doctor may recommend the use of birth control pills, a vaginal ring, patches, hormonal shots, or an intrauterine device (IUD) for birth control. Hormonal birth control helps in regulating the menstrual cycle, relieving acne, and preventing excess growth of hair.
  • Medications for blocking the androgens: Some medications help in blocking the effect of androgens. This can help in controlling acne and excess hair growth caused by PCOS.
  • Insulin-sensitizing medication: Metformin medicine can be given for the treatment of diabetes. This helps the body process insulin. Control in the insulin levels helps women with PCOS to see an improvement in their menstrual cycles.
  • Lifestyle changes: Eating a healthy diet and losing weight help in controlling insulin levels.

( Know more about- Diet for Diabetic Patients )

If a woman plans to get pregnant now or in the future, treatment for PCOS will include:

  • Medications for inducing ovulation: Certain drugs help in inducing ovulation (release of an egg from the ovaries). Medications like letrozole, clomiphene can be taken orally, while gonadotropins are given by injection.
  • Surgery: Ovarian drilling is a surgical procedure done to trigger ovulation by the removal of tissues in the ovaries that produce androgen hormones. This procedure is now rarely done due to the availability of newer medications.
  • In vitro fertilization (IVF): This procedure involves the fertilization of the female’s egg by the male sperm in a laboratory. This is then transferred to the uterus of the woman. This procedure is done in females when medications are ineffective in helping with ovulation.

(Know more about-What is Ovarian Cyst Removal Surgery?Purpose, Procedure, Aftercare, Cost)

What are the complications of PCOS?

PCOS can cause the following complications:

  • Infertility
  • Miscarriage
  • Premature birth
  • Gestational (during pregnancy) diabetes 
  • Pregnancy-induced high blood pressure
  • Diabetes
  • Depression
  • Eating disorders
  • Anxiety
  • Abnormal uterine (womb) bleeding
  • Cancer of the uterine lining (known as endometrial cancer)
  • Obesity
  • Sleep apnea (a sleep disorder in which the breathing of a person is interrupted during sleep)
  • Non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (a severe type of liver inflammation caused due to the accumulation of fat in the liver)
  • Metabolic syndrome (high blood pressure, high blood sugar, abnormal cholesterol levels)

( Know more about- What is Fatty Liver? Causes, Symptoms, Treatment )

If you have any of the above symptoms, contact your doctor immediately.

How to prevent PCOS?

Although PCOS cannot be prevented, a few tips can help in relieving the symptoms associated with PCOS, which include:

  • Eat a fiber-rich and protein-rich diet including green leafy vegetables, almonds, sweet potato, pumpkin, lentils, beans, broccoli, cauliflower, chicken, fish, berries, etc.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Maintain your body weight.

( Know more about- What is Cervical Cancer? Causes, Symptoms, Treatment, Cost)

We hope we have answered all your questions about PCOS through this article.

If you want more information about Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) and its treatment, you should contact a Gynecologist.

We aim to provide you with information through this article. We do not recommend any medicine or treatment to anyone. Only a doctor can give you good advice and the correct treatment plan.

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