Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a condition that affects approximately 1 in 10 women, although this could be higher because half of these women do not have symptoms. (1) The condition affects women of childbearing age. As the name suggests, ‘polycystic’ is when cysts may form on the ovaries. Do bear in mind that this is just one sign of the symptom and not the cause. Unfortunately, there is no cure and the reason why women develop PCOS is still unknown.
There are several symptoms and causes that we will address in this blog.
The three main features of PCOS are:
Irregular periods/absent periods - which means your ovaries do not regularly release eggs or fail to produce eggs. Heavy periods are also included. These are all known as ‘Oligoovulation’, which is a menstrual disorder that is characterized as any abnormal condition with regard to a person's menstrual cycle.
Excess androgen - high levels of “male” hormones in your body, which may cause physical signs such as excess facial or body hair.
Polycystic ovaries - your ovaries become enlarged and contain many fluid-filled sacs that surround the eggs.
However, despite the name you do not always have cystitis if you have PCOS. If you have at least two of the above symptoms you may be diagnosed with PCOS.
PCOS before, during and after pregnancy
Unfortunately having PCOS can lead to complications and risks before, during and after pregnancy. The risks that will be mentioned are not guaranteed, however, women with PCOS are at a higher risk to them all. During your pregnancy, you will require extra monitoring due to having PCOS just to keep a closer eye on both yourself and the baby.
PCOS and trying to fall pregnant
On average women with PCOS take longer to fall pregnant and can even be trying for over a year. This can be due to PCOS leading to irregular periods meaning they don't ovulate each month. Or even due to being overweight due to weight fluctuating due to PCOS.
If you would like to fall pregnant and you do suffer PCOS, it is recommended to book an appointment with your GP. Suffering from PCOS does not rule out having children completely, just means extra precautions need to be put in place and you may need additional help to conceive.
PCOS during pregnancy
Potential risks to the baby are:
large for gestational age
lower Apgar score
If you have a baby girl and you have PCOS studies show there is a 50% chance that they may also have PCOS.
PCOS after pregnancy
When suffering from PCOS it is important to remember that you may still need to manage symptoms after pregnancy and it may take a little while longer to get back to “the normal” as your hormones will already be up and down from having a baby. It is also critical to know that some PCOS symptoms especially fluctuation in weight often returns worse after having a baby.
It is completely safe to breastfeed if you choose to do so with PCOS, even if you are on insulin due to blood sugar levels.
PCOS and the impact on weight
As mentioned above PCOS can have an impact on your weight. More often than not, leading to weight gain making it difficult to lose weight and maintain one weight.
Having PCOS may impact your weight as the hormones in the body make it harder to use insulin, which helps to burn and digest sugars and starchy foods into energy. This is called insulin resistance and can lead to diabetes.
Risks to do with weight gain in PCOS
Type 2 diabetes
High blood pressure
These are not risks that everyone will experience these are just some that weight gain from PCOS that may occur.
PCOD vs PCOS
Both PCOD and PCOS are medical conditions associated with hormones and ovarian imbalance. They are fairly similar conditions but do have their differences.
Below is a chart from [Pacehospital] showing the difference between PCOD and PCOS
PCOS and PCOD mainly affect the balance of hormones in females' bodies. The best way to manage both is by following steps to decrease androgen levels in the body.
Steps to follow are:
Maintaining a healthy body weight
Limiting carbohydrate consumption
Do regular exercise and be active
PCOS and menopause
PCOS can even have an impact on menopause. Women with PCOS tend to reach menopause two years later than the average woman and even then, PCOS symptoms do not go away.
Perimenopause often starts in your 40s-50s we talk a lot about menopause in our menopause within workplace blog. To take a read and get a better understanding of what exactly menopause is have a read through. (Menopause within the workplace)
Symptoms of PCOS and perimenopause can be quite similar so it makes it difficult for women around the menopausal age to be newly diagnosed with PCOS.
Symptoms of the two are:
Acne and skin problems
Change in sex drive
Irregular or missed periods
Hot flashes and night sweats
Pain and discomfort during intercourse
Thinning hair on the hair
Unwanted hair growth
Vaginal and urinary tract infections
As seen from the table above the symptoms between the two are very similar and the symptoms of PCOS can still continue after the menopause is finished.
Does PCOS make your immune system weak?
PCOS means there is a low level of progesterone that overstimulates immune systems that lead to the production of autoantibodies. Therefore, it can be labelled as an autoimmune disorder.
This means the hormone imbalance of having PCOS impact on your body may impact your immune system and your body's ability to recover from illnesses. Women with PCOS have an increased risk of endometrial cancer, whereas their risk for breast cancer is equivalent to the normal population who do not suffer PCOS.
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