One in ten Indian women suffer from polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), according to a study. Irregular periods, excessive hair growth, weight gain, and difficulty to lose the same are the symptoms and the effects of this condition. However, women suffering from it also have insulin resistance, which can lead to type-2 diabetes. Many women also face trouble getting pregnant. Evidently, PCOS can lead to or increase your risk of other health complications, too. So, what are the health issues that PCOS is linked to? For an answer to this question, Onlymyhealth spoke to Dr. Anjali Kumar, Founder - Maitri, a digital platform on women's health.
Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS): Symptoms & Causes
PCOS is related to “hormonal imbalance,” said Dr. Kumar, characterised by:
- Irregular or delayed periods
- Excess secretion of male hormone in women
- Formation of small cysts in ovaries, which is diagnosed with an ultrasound
- Insulin resistance
We do not know the exact cause of PCOS. However, most scientific studies have found a strong hereditary and genetic component behind it, along with the following:
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- Excess secretion of male hormone
- Insulin resistance
- Increased markers of inflammation
All these factors lead to the following:
- Delayed release of the egg from ovaries of women suffering from PCOS. At times, the ovaries do not release an egg for many months. The result: delayed and irregular periods. Some women have heavy and prolonged periods, while others have frequent and irregular bleeding. Some also face difficulties getting pregnant.
- Since women with PCOS have an excess of male hormones in their bodies, it can lead to acne, excess facial and body hair on the chest, abdomen, and thighs, and scalp hair loss explained Dr. Kumar.
- Excessive weight gain and trouble losing it.
- Psychological problems like depression and stress
- Sleep-related disorders like insomnia and sleep apnoea
- Since there is insulin resistance, it can cause acanthosis nigricans (rough and thickened skin at the back of neck), abdominal obesity, and increased waist to hip ratio.
- Darkening of the skin of thighs, armpits, etc.
Health Risks Associated With PCOS
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“PCOS can affect your body in more ways than one,” said Dr. Kumar. It is not just about irregular periods and weight gain, but is associated with several health risks, she added. Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) increases your risk of the following:
Over half of the women with PCOS develop type-2 diabetes by the age of 40, as per the US Centers for Disease Control & Prevention. Insulin resistance is one of the characteristics of PCOS, which could explain the occurrence of type-2 diabetes.
2. High Blood Pressure
Women with PCOS are at a high risk of high blood pressure. Hence, steps should be taken to manage both. Uncontrolled blood pressure can have implications on the heart, kidneys, and vision.
3. Cardiovascular Problems
Studies suggest that women with PCOS are susceptible to heart ailments as well. Diabetes, high blood pressure, and weight gain are the characteristics of this condition, all of which are linked to poor heart health.
An unexplained weight gain or difficulty in losing it are among the PCOS symptoms. Being overweight or obese is detrimental to overall health. It increases your risk of type-2 diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular issues, and a range of other health problems.
PCOS can make it difficult for a woman to get pregnant and can even lead to infertility. As you know that ovaries of a woman with PCOS doesn't release an egg regularly. And without ovulation, you cannot get pregnant.
6. Pregnancy-Related Complications
PCOS doesn’t just make it difficult for you to get pregnant but can lead to several pregnancy-related complications also. Such complications include gestational diabetes, high blood pressure during pregnancy, eclampsia, premature childbirth, loss of pregnancy, and various complications in the newborn.
7. Endometrial Cancer
Studies show that women with PCOS are at 2.7 times increased risk of endometrial cancer than the rest. The hormonal imbalance and its effect on the endometrium might be the reason for that.
8. Obstructive Sleep Apnoea
PCOS also increases your risk of obstructive sleep apnea. A sleep-related disorder, apnea is characterised by pauses in breathing during sleep. It can last from a few seconds to a minute. Symptoms include snoring, pauses in the breath that is followed by the person gasping for breath.
9. Psychological Problems
PCOS is a physical health issue. However, it is detrimental to mental health as well. Its psychological impacts include depression, stress, and anxiety, according to Dr. Kumar.
PCOS-Related Health Complications: How To Reduce The Risk?
Lifestyle changes are the primary way to reduce your risk of health complications caused by PCOS. Such lifestyle changes include:
Avoid processed and packaged foods. Similarly, avoid foods that have a high glycaemic index and sugar content. Instead, go for foods that don’t raise your blood sugar levels abruptly, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and foods with low carbs levels.
Regular physical activity for 30-45 minutes per day for at least five days a week is beneficial for women with PCOS, studies have shown. Exercise helps with hormonal imbalance, insulin insensitivity, and promotes regular ovulation. When coupled with a proper diet, workout aids weight loss, which is crucial for PCOS patients.
Weight gain is among the symptoms of PCOS. On the other hand, weight loss helps with PCOS symptoms. Just a 5-10% reduction in the current body weight can help relieve PCOS symptoms.
Practicing sleep hygiene helps you with PCOS and health complications caused by it. Hence, develop a sleep routine, which means go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day, including weekends. Avoid using gadgets close to bedtime. Also, avoid stimulants like caffeine and alcohol close to going to bed.
How To Manage PCOS?
In the long term, PCOS can be managed by following a healthy lifestyle and eating habits. However, to manage some acute symptoms and in some selected cases, the doctor prescribes medications. They are meant to correct hormonal imbalance, promote regular ovulation, improve insulin resistance, and treat androgen excess. Medications for PCOS include:
- Combined Hormonal Pills: To correct hormonal imbalance and promote regular ovulation.
- Metformin: To relieve symptoms experienced due to insulin resistance. It also promotes regular ovulation and is generally given to women who are trying to get pregnant.
- Clomiphene Citrate/ Letrozole Or Gonadotropins: To promote ovulation in women who are trying to conceive.
- Spironolactone: To relieve symptoms of excess androgen production.
- Laser Therapy & Cosmetic Procedures: For tackling excess hair growth due to excess androgen production.
Anyone can opt for laser therapy or cosmetic procedures such as waxing, threading, etc to get rid of excess hair. However, do not take any medications without the prescription of your doctor.
How To Reverse PCOS?
There is no treatment for PCOS, as of now. However, it can be managed in the long run by having a healthy lifestyle and eating habits. Also, go for regular health check-ups to be aware of the current status of your health.
How To Prevent PCOS?
The key to PCOS prevention lies in a healthy lifestyle. Hence:
- Exercise regularly
- Have a healthy diet
- Practice sleep hygiene
- Lose weight
Generally, women with PCOS gain weight. However, it can develop in underweight women too, which is categorised as lean PCOS. For such women, a healthy diet, sleep habits, and psychological management go a long way in treating PCOS. Also, they should consider strength training and muscle-building exercises to improve their muscle to fat ratio to keep insulin resistance and hormonal imbalance in check.
(With inputs from Dr. Anjali Kumar, Founder - Maitri, a digital platform on woman's health)
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