Friday 18 October 2019

PCOS explainer: what is polycystic ovary syndrome and how to cope

Polycystic ovary syndrome can cause irregular periods, hair loss and acne. Liz Connor finds out more

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Stock image

Liz Connor

PCOS. It’s an acronym you’ve probably heard of, but do you actually know what it means?

Standing for polycystic ovary syndrome, it’s a health condition which is caused by small growths on a woman’s ovaries.

Despite the name, the condition doesn’t actually cause cysts. Instead, polycystic ovaries produce fluid-filled sacs that contain immature eggs, which means ovulation is less likely to take place. Women with the syndrome also tend to produce higher-than-normal amounts of male hormones, creating an imbalance in the body.

The condition can cause women to skip menstrual periods and makes it harder for them to fall pregnant, so it’s a common concern for millions - statistics state that around one in five UK women are affected by it.

The symptoms can be subtle though, and are often confused with other health conditions, making it harder to get a diagnosis.

What are the signs of PCOS?

Some of the main symptoms of the condition include having irregular periods or no periods at all, and difficulty falling pregnant.

While the condition doesn’t pose any serious threat to a woman’s health, it is one of the most common causes of infertility in the UK.

Because of the higher levels of testosterone in the body, PCOS can cause excessive hair growth on the face and body. Women may also notice weight gain, thinning hair or hair loss, and oily skin or acne on their face.

Having polycystic ovaries can also increase a woman’s chance of developing other health conditions such as type 2 diabetes, depression, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

During ovulation, the uterine lining sheds, but if you don’t ovulate every month, the lining can build up, which can increase a woman’s risk of developing womb cancer too.

It’s not known why PCOS happens, but experts believe that it may have a genetic link. The hormone imbalance experienced by women with PCOS may be a contributing factor too.

What to do if you think you might have PCOS

According to the NHS, the symptoms will often present themselves by your late teens or early twenties.

While there is no cure for PCOS, there are ways that the symptoms can be effectively managed. These include making healthy lifestyle changes and your GP may also prescribe suitable medication too.

Fortunately, with the right treatment, most women with PCOS are able to have children.

If you’re concerned that you may have PCOS, the best thing to do is speak to your GP. While it’s not life-threatening, a doctor can carry out checks to rule out any other conditions.

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