PCOS: THE COMMON WOMEN'S CONDITION HARDLY TALKED ABOUT
September is Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) awareness month. You may not even realise that those symptoms you’ve been struggling with recently could be an indication of PCOS, but once you’re done reading this, you’ll understand PCOS better. After all, knowledge is power, and we’re all about that strong, empowered female energy.
WHAT IS PCOS?
For starters, PCOS is an endocrine condition that affects about 8% - 13% of women who are of reproductive age (that’s 15 – 49), says the World Health Organization. In South Africa, around 8 million women battle with PCOS.
Because not all of us studied biology at school, it’s important to unpack what “endocrine” means. Basically, it’s a term that refers to the system of glands in your body that naturally releases hormones into your blood stream.
Your body’s endocrine system uses hormones to control the operations of your body and manage things like your metabolism, energy levels, growth, and development, and even reproduction. When your endocrine system is out of sync, the above could be affected.
WHAT CAUSES PCOS?
Renowned medical professional, health advocate and Kotex® Brand Ambassador Dr. Nosipho Danielle Mhlanga lets us know that up to 70% of women affected by PCOS are undiagnosed.
The exact cause of PCOS is not fully understood, but it is believed to result from a combination of genetic, hormonal, and environmental factors. What we do know is that PCOS is the most common endocrine disease among women.
With PCOS, there’s a mismatch in the balance of hormones between the ovaries and the brain. Because of this, there are a lot of eggs and cysts that develop in the ovaries – hence the word “poly”, which means many.
The mismatch means your body is not functioning optimally; hence your eggs respond abnormally to signals coming from the brain. This leads to an over production of sex hormones or androgens (like testosterone), which can leave you experiencing all sorts of symptoms.
RECOGNIZING PCOS SYMPTOMS
When PCOS is in the mix, a variety of symptoms may follow. Below are just some of them. Keep in mind that PCOS is a heterogeneous disorder, meaning not everyone will experience it in the same way.
- Irregular or absent menstrual cycles
In the long term, this may affect your ability to fall pregnant. You may also experience heavy periods or very painful periods.
- High(er) levels of androgens, which are the male hormones
This can lead to acne, oily skin, and increased hair growth (called “hirsutism”) on your face, chest, back and/or other areas of your body. Alternatively, you may notice some hair thinning or hair loss on your scalp.
- Mood changes
Having PCOS can increase the likelihood of mood swings, depression, and anxiety.
- Darkening of skin
For example, thick, dark, velvety patches of skin under your arms or breasts, or on the back of your neck.
- Abdominal weight gain or obesity
Abdominal (the area around your abdomen, A.K.A your belly) weight gain or obesity can make hormonal imbalances worse, increasing the chances of experiencing insulin resistance that’s linked to PCOS. This is important to note as insulin resistance can lead to an increased risk of type 2 diabetes.
It doesn’t help that with PCOS, losing weight is more challenging.
That’s because hormonal changes in your body prompt headaches.
- Fatigue and low energy
You may also notice related issues such as poor sleep, which may contribute to the feeling of fatigue.
TREATMENT FOR PCOS
Dr. Nosipho explains that “Women who suspect they have PCOS and have any of the identifiable symptoms as mentioned above should seek medical help. Some of the treatment methods used to manage PCOS include dietary and lifestyle changes, regular exercise, oral contraceptives, anti-androgen medications, and other hormone-based treatments”.
So, if reading the symptoms above had you thinking “hmm, this sounds like me”, do visit your healthcare provider. In treating PCOS, keep in mind that it is a chronic condition, and managing it takes patience and consistency. Progress may take time but keep at it.
And because #SharingIsCaring, take a moment to forward this article to all the queens in your life.
The advice provided in this material is general in nature and is not intended as medical advice. If you need medical advice, please consult your healthcare professional.