PCOS: When Missed Periods is a Metabolic Problem
10% women have PCOS in India - with varying symptoms which may be cosmetic, gynaecological and endocrinological (Photo: iStock)
10% women have PCOS in India - with varying symptoms which may be cosmetic, gynaecological and endocrinological (Photo: iStock)

PCOS: When Missed Periods is a Metabolic Problem

Sometimes medical syndromes are named long before they are fully understood.

PCOS or the polycystic ovarian syndrome, is a metabolic disorder that results in hormonal imbalance, affecting 1 in 10 women in India. It often impairs fertility, alters the period cycle, causes weight gain, even diabetes, acne and excessive body hair.

But not all women suffering from PCOS have cysts in their ovaries, a fact that can often result in misdiagnosis. As it turns out, cysts, or sacs of fluid on the ovaries, is just one manifestation of this complex hormonal condition.

In order to get a diagnosis, one must have two out of the three of the following conditions: Elevated androgen levels, absent or irregular menstruation, and/or 12 or more ovarian cysts.

PCOS Is Severely Underdiagnosed

PCOS is genetic and presents differently in each woman. For some, symptoms emerge shortly after they begin menstruating. Others may not show any symptoms until later in life, or after substantial weight gain, and many don’t receive a diagnosis until they are struggling to get pregnant.

PCOS is a syndrome that doctors  <i>still</i> don’t know the cause of. Genetic predisposition is just one reason, but there are still no answers regarding exactly <i>why</i>&nbsp; so many women across the globe get it (Photo: iStock)
PCOS is a syndrome that doctors still don’t know the cause of. Genetic predisposition is just one reason, but there are still no answers regarding exactly why  so many women across the globe get it (Photo: iStock)

The PCOS Society in India, says, that up to 70% of women who have the disorder are not diagnosed - the majority! Since there is no one test to diagnose this tricky disorder, one study says that it takes an average of seeing four doctors before being properly diagnosed.

If left untreated, this hormone imbalance can affect everything from a woman’s menstrual cycle, to her appearance, to her ability to have children, to her overall health.

The exact cause of PCOS is still not known, but scientists have found a strong link to insulin resistance. The excess insulin that’s being produced stimulates the ovary to make testosterone, which can interfere with ovulation, rendering many women infertile.

Unfortunately, this disorder is one of the most misunderstood, under-diagnosed and under-funded conditions affecting women’s health. Mainly because it was classically, thought to be just a cosmetic annoyance.

But not any more.

According to a recent study, women diagnosed with PCOS are twice as likely to be hospitalized for heart disease, diabetes, mental-health conditions, reproductive disorders, and cancer of the uterine lining. And if you calculate the cost of evaluating and providing care to women with PCOS, it will run in to millions.

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PCOS is Treatable

While there are some medications, including birth control pills, that can help with symptoms, many women still have to deal with the effects of PCOS on their own (Photo: iStock)
While there are some medications, including birth control pills, that can help with symptoms, many women still have to deal with the effects of PCOS on their own (Photo: iStock)
There is no cure for PCOS, and the best approach to treatment is individualized, depending on the goals of each patient. 

But there’s a variety of lifestyle options you can practice in order to keep the symptoms down.

Weight loss is the first line of intervention most doctors recommend for women suffering with PCOS. Losing just about 10% of body fat, will reduce the PCOS symptoms by a massive 75%.

PCOS is the most common cause for infertility. But it is not a lost cause. For a woman trying to become pregnant, doctors commonly prescribe drugs to stimulate ovulation.

What this means for you: PCOS is a confusing and complicated syndrome. If your first doctor says, PCOS cannot be treated, don’t blindly trust him. Even if you don’t opt to go with drug-related treatment, adopting an all-around healthier lifestyle can help you greatly reduce the symptoms of PCOS and improve your chances of having a successful pregnancy.

(Have a period story to share? Write to us at fit@thequint.com or comment below.)

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