Were you recently diagnosed with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS)? The good news is that you were fortunate enough to be in the care of a doctor or clinician who knew their stuff. PCOS is one of the most under-diagnosed syndromes affecting women of childbearing age. This is a shame because PCOS has some very specific symptoms – some of which may be manageable, some of which may not – and it can lead to undesirable outcomes if it isn’t diagnosed.
What Is PCOS?
While PCOS is now diagnosable, we aren’t really sure exactly what causes it, so much about the syndrome remains a mystery. What we do know is that it tends to affect 5% to 10% of the female population during their fertile stage in life, and that PCOS is one of the leading causes of female infertility.
Polycystic ovarian syndrome is characterized by certain symptoms:
- Irregular or absent periods.
- Ovarian cysts, which can be seen on ultrasounds.
- Excess male hormone levels, which are discovered via blood tests.
- Painful periods.
- More-than-normal presence of skin tags (small mole-like skin flaps on the neck and under the arms).
Other common symptoms include:
- Increased facial hair or hair on fingers, toes, chest, etc., a condition called Hirsutism.
- Male-pattern baldness.
- Weight-gain or obesity, especially weight that targets the waist/hips rather than the body as a whole. This may be due to insulin resistance, which is covered below.
- Sleep apnea.
- Darker skin patches on neck, arms, breasts or thighs that are thicker than the skin around them.
- Oily skin and/or acne.
Not surprisingly, given the irregular or lapsed menstrual cycles (which mean you aren’t ovulating), women with PCOS can have trouble conceiving a baby.
If you are not interested in getting pregnant in the immediate future, consider using birth control pills, which will help to balance your hormones and regulate your menstrual cycle. If you do plan on getting pregnant, this is a good time to consult with a fertility specialist.
PCOS Causes Infertility
Perhaps one of the most emotionally challenging side-effects for women with PCOS is the potential infertility diagnosis that may lie ahead. The sooner you know you have PCOS, the better chance you have of conceiving a baby by making lifestyle changes and enlisting the help of your OB/GYN or fertility specialist.
Please Note: Young women with PCOS (who have trouble conceiving) can wind up having multiples (often in triplet, quadruplet, or quintuplet form) if they use the wrong type of fertility medication and/or the wrong doses of certain fertility medications. Even more traumatic, they risk their baby’s (or babies’) lives, as well as their own lives, if they suffer from complications resulting from a multiples pregnancy.
This is because unlike women with low ovarian reserve, women with PCOS usually have plenty of eggs. They simply lack the right hormonal balance to maintain a health menstrual cycle. If you take a woman with plenty of eggs, and administer the wrong type/dose of fertility medication, she can wind up releasing dozens of healthy eggs, which is NOT the way nature intended things.
As such, any woman with a PCOS diagnosis, who has trouble conceiving on her own, should work with a fertility specialist to ensure fertility medications are used in personalized, specific doses.
Low-Carb & Anti-Inflammatory Diets May Help to Control the Side Effects of PCOS
We mentioned that PCOS and insulin resistance seem to be linked. This is because women with PCOS have naturally high sugar levels, which require excess insulin production, and that creates a vicious blood-sugar/insulin/low-blood sugar/carb craving/insulin spike cycle. Overtime, this takes its toll. For this reason, many women find that adhering to lower-carb diets, such as the Adkins diet or the South Beach diet can work wonders when it comes to regulating blood sugar levels, which eventually regulates weight gain.
Anti-inflammatory diets have also shown to improve the symptoms of PCOS. Polycystic ovaries can trigger a chronic inflammatory state in the pelvis. Anti-inflammatory diets, which focus on whole foods, lean proteins while eliminating sugars and processed foods, have yielded positive results for women with PCOS. In addition to helping with the fertility equation, this type of diet can also help you look and feel better, increasing energy levels and improving overall health.
Pregnancy Complications Associated with PCOS
Women with PCOS are more prone to certain pregnancy complications as a result of their weight and insulin resistance. These risks include:
- Gestational diabetes.
- High blood pressure (Preeclampsia).
- Premature labor and delivery.
For these reasons, your doctor will consider your pregnancies to be “high risk,” which will alter how you are monitored during your pregnancy, labor and delivery.
Women With PCOS Are More Prone to Developing Diabetes & Other Health Issues
Insulin resistance is a pre-cursor for diabetes, so it also makes sense that women with PCOS are more likely to be diagnosed with type 2 diabetes later on in life (50% more likely), and their children are more likely to be diagnosed with diabetes too.
Women with PCOS are also more prone to:
- High LDL (bad) cholesterol levels.
- High blood sugar
- Heart disease
- Sleep apnea
- Anxiety and/or depression
Thus, all women with PCOS – not just those who want to become parents – should seek healthcare professionals who are current on PCOS and make an effort to choosing lifestyle choices that optimize their health.
Do you feel that you may have PCOS? Have you been diagnosed with PCOS? Contact Women’s Health Associates and begin working with female-centric healthcare providers who will help you manage the condition so you can enjoy a long and healthy life.