Living with PCOS
Domlur, Bengaluru Feb 9, 2017
Attention, women! Do you see symptoms of irregular menstruation, unwanted facial growth, weight gain, skin problem, infertility? Then it is time to get yourself analysed for polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).
What is PCOS? Polycystic ovary syndrome is a hormonal disorder that occurs in women of reproductive age. Polycystic literally means "many cysts" and PCOS often causes clusters of small, pearl-sized cysts in the ovaries. The cysts are not harmful but lead to hormone imbalances. The ovaries produce a tiny amount of male sex hormones called androgens. In PCOS, due to elevated androgens, the signs and symptoms include no menstrual periods, heavy periods, excess body hair, hirsutism, acne, pelvic pain and infertility.
PCOS happens because of a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Because the symptoms of PCOS tend to run in families, the syndrome is probably caused, at least in part, by a change or mutation in one or more genes.
- Unknown root cause
- Insulin resistance (excess insulin boosts androgen production)
- Low grade inflammation
- Hormonal imbalances
- Irregular periods
- Excessive hair growth on face (hirsutism) and around lower abdomen
- Weight gain
- Thinning of hair
- Oily skin
- Diabetes or pre-diabetes
- Depression and mood swings
- Breathing problems while sleeping (obstructive sleep apnea)
Diagnosis: No single test can show that you have PCOS. Your doctor will talk to you about your medical history, do a physical examination and run some tests.
- Medical history: Includes symptoms like changes in weight, skin and menstrual cycle or any family history of hormone problems, including diabetes
- Physical examination: Includes thyroid gland, skin, hair and belly
- Ultrasound: Polycystic ovaries either 12 or more (2-9 mm. in diametre)
- Lab tests: Gonadotropin, testosterone, prolactin and TSH tests
- Insulin test: Glucose tolerance and insulin levels, which can show insulin resistance is also tested
Treatment: Treatment of PCOS focuses on controlling symptoms and managing the condition to prevent complications. Regular exercise, a healthy diet, weight control and not smoking are all important for the treatment for PCOS. It may also include hormonal therapy to regulate hormones.
Dietary management: One of the best treatments for PCOS is a healthy lifestyle. Eating well, staying active and maintaining a healthy weight can improve PCOS symptoms.
The food groups to be considered:
- Carbohydrates: Complex carbohydrate foods with fibre such as whole grains, fruits and vegetables are usually the best to eat to keep your insulin level down. Include vegetables such as spinach, ladyfinger, cabbage, cauliflower, carrot, fenugreek, lettuce and broccoli. Choose fruits such as apple, pear, papaya, guava, pineapple, muskmelon, watermelon and plums.
- Proteins: Protein has a stabilising effect on the sugar released from carbohydrates into the blood. Protein can be found in lean meats, fish, poultry, dairy products and nuts and seeds like almonds, walnuts, pumpkin seeds and flaxseeds.
- Fats: Limit intake of fats, fried and oily foods. Select good sources of fats for food preparation such as rice bran oil and olive oil.
- Avoid sugars: Sugars increase the insulin level so avoid simple sugars or sugary food products.
- Limit salt: Use spices and herbs to flavour your food. Avoid use of canned and processed food to limit the intake of salt.
You may feel that it is difficult to lose excess weight but it is important to continue the effort. Your efforts help reduce the risk of developing serious health complications that can impact women with PCOS much sooner than women without PCOS. The biggest health concerns are diabetes, heart disease and stroke because PCOS is linked to having high blood pressure, pre-diabetes and high cholesterol. The good news is that early diagnosis and proper education can help women lower all these risk factors and live a happy and healthy life.