Hey! It’s a little-known fact that September is PCOS Awareness Month! PCOS is an oft-misunderstood disease that can have some pretty traumatizing symptoms. Here’s your PCOS 101 to give you a starting point for figuring out what’s up with your ovaries.
What is PCOS?
Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) is a condition that occurs when a person has an imbalance of estrogen and progesterone in their body. This imbalance leads to the growth of small cysts on the ovaries of people with PCOS. While the cyst itself may not be harmful, the presence of the cysts can cause further hormonal imbalances, reproductive issues, menstrual cycle issues, problems with cardiac function and changes in appearance. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, up to 5 million women* in the United States suffer from PCOS.
What are the symptoms?
Symptoms of PCOS can begin soon after a person menstruates for the first time. While the type and severity of symptoms can vary, the most common symptom of PCOS is irregular menstrual periods. With PCOS often marked by a decrease in estrogen, people with PCOS may also develop characteristics including excess hair, decrease in breast size, a deeper voice, hair loss, acne, weight gain, pelvic pain, depression and infertility. People who suffer from PCOS can also experience other health problems including diabetes, hypertension and high cholesterol. These health problems are often a result of the weight gain that people with PCOS experience.
How can you treat PCOS?
While PCOS can be treated, there is no cure yet. Treatment for PCOS is focused on controlling the symptoms of the illness to prevent further complication. Treatment can vary from person to person but some common treatment options to control the symptoms of PCOS include:
- A healthy diet: consuming a healthy diet and doing regular exercise will assist in regulating the menstrual cycle and help people who have gained weight as a result of PCOS.
- Birth control pills: some people have experienced relief from the symptoms of PCOS by starting a prescription for birth control pills. Taking birth control pills helps to treat acne, regulate the menstrual cycle and lower androgen levels.
- Other prescription medication: prescription medication such as anti-androgens can be taken to reduce reduce excess hair growth and acne.
- Surgery: in a few cases, surgery can be performed to promote ovulation and reduce androgen levels in people with PCOS who are trying to conceive.
PCOS and menstruation
People with PCOS often experience irregular menstrual cycles. In some cases, if you have had one menstrual period and have stopped menstruating for three months or longer, you may have secondary amenorrhea which is the total absence of menstruation. The key challenge for people with PCOS is that they don’t get the spike of the luteinizing hormone (LH) that most people get before they menstruate. People with PCOS typically have high levels of LH throughout their cycle meaning this spike does not occur so ovulation is not triggered. Without ovulation, and the sharp fall of progesterone after the egg is released, a period cannot occur. For people who have PCOS and experience irregular menstruation, treating the hormone imbalance that causes PCOS and irregular menstruation is priority.
As detailed above, there are several medicinal and lifestyle approaches that can be taken to encourage regular menstruation to commence. PCOS is a condition that requires attention and you should seek the advice of a trained medical professional if you are concerned about your symptoms. Don’t be afraid to be assertive with your doctor! They can help you make the decisions that will keep you happy and healthy.
With a keen interest in holistic health and wellness, Nicola Smith works with heart-centred female entrepreneurs in the health and wellness industry, providing copy that engages to help grow their businesses. Her goal is to help women increase their impact on the world, build the business of their dreams, and inspire others to simplify their lives, pack a suitcase and book a ticket to somewhere they’ve always wanted to visit or live.