This blog post contains information about PCOS gathered from materials available on the Internet. This post is not medical advice. If your goal is to manage PCOS, you first need to determine what type you have.
The majority of women with menstrual irregularity simply think it is because of stress. When women gain an extra pound, they automatically blame it on a sedentary lifestyle or perhaps the Christmas season. Often, women with acne flareups could be using new beauty products that disagree with their skin. Some women who tend to have more body hairs believe their condition runs on their genes. It is not until these women’s symptoms pile up or become alarming that they would visit a doctor or at least consult Dr. Google.
A simple search of the symptoms above on Google will yield PCOS or Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome. The word “cyst” can automatically make people worry because of its association with cancer. Add the term “poly”, which means “many”, and you can feel fear and anxiety kicking in. Since the second word is “ovarian”, people may think that it only affects the ovaries. Finally, the word “syndrome” will fuel the fire because it is often associated with genetic diseases. Telling someone uninitiated about this condition will definitely make them worry.
Before reading further, if you suspect you have PCOS, you definitely need to go to the doctor. Rest assured, PCOS is not a life-threatening condition. In this blog post, we will try to make it less scary and less complicated.
What is Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome?
PCOS is common. According to CDC, about 6% to 12% of American women have PCOS. That is roughly 5 million women in the USA alone. Unfortunately, this condition remains largely undiagnosed or even misdiagnosed.
To clarify, PCOS is generally a heterogenous endocrine-related metabolic disorder that causes abnormally higher levels of androgen among women of reproductive age.
Heterogenous means it is caused by many factors such as genes, food, medicine, inflammation, environment, etc. Having high androgen levels and menstrual irregularities are the main identifying factors of PCOS. An increase in androgen levels can lead to insulin resistance and weight gain. Thus, PCOS impacts the person’s metabolism or the body’s ability to convert and use energy.
To clarify, having “cysts” on your ovaries does not necessarily equate to having PCOS. These “cysts” are actually premature egg follicles, which can be normal in some women. Having actual cysts, on the other hand, may not be related to PCOS at all.
It is endocrine-related because androgen is a hormone. The endocrine system mainly has 12 glands that produce hormones or chemical substances that regulate the balance and processes in our cells and organs. A disorder in the endocrine system may mean a hormonal imbalance or a malfunction in the hormone’s ability to do its job. The most common endocrine disorder is diabetes.
Symptoms of PCOS
Higher levels of androgens affect women differently. Overall, females should have low amounts of androgens or male hormones such as testosterone and DHEA sulfate (DHEA-s). The normal testosterone level for women is 6 to 86 nanograms per deciliter. As per MountSinai.org, DHEAs should drop from 380 micrograms per deciliter (µg/dL) at most for women in their 20s and 270 at most for women in their 30s.
Another common symptom is an irregularity in the menstrual cycle. This may result from anovulation (lack of ovulation), delay of ovulation (resulting in longer cycles), or hormonal imbalance. Nonetheless, missing a period once may not indicate PCOS, unless accompanied by high levels of androgen.
Types of PCOS
PCOS is a “syndrome” because several symptoms and conditions occur together or correlate, but are not definitely present in all cases. According to the 2022 article by Lara Briden, there are four types of PCOS: Insulin-resistant, Post-Pill, Inflammatory, and Adrenal.
Most PCOS patients have elevated insulin or are unable to properly utilize insulin. In these women, higher levels of insulin increase their testosterone levels, which leads to PCOS symptoms such as:
- Ovulation problems (including lack of period)
- Hirsutism or male-pattern baldness
- Hormonal acne (especially acne along the jawline)
- Weight gain (especially in the stomach area)
- Skin darkening (acanthosis)
- Increased hunger or thirst (and frequent urination)
- Chronic Fatigue
- Polycystic ovaries
- Difficulty Sleeping
PCOS can also result from prolonged use of contraceptives. Birth control pills may have chemicals that mimic hormones. Thus, when you stop taking the pills, it may throw your hormones off balance. Usually, it will take your body a few months to adjust. This withdrawal process has the following symptoms:
- High LH to FSH ratio
- Changes in the menstrual cycle
- Moderate acne and oilier skin
- The possible presence of cysts-like immature follicles in the ovary
Chronic or long-term inflammation can also increase women’s androgen levels. Usually, this is caused by constant exposure to toxins, poor diet, or food sensitivities (especially to sugar/glucose). The following are the basic symptoms to look out for.
- High C-reactive protein (inflammation marker)
- Longer Period/Cycle
- IBS (Irritable Bowel Movement)
- Frequent Infection
- General weight gain
Androgens are also produced in the adrenal glands, which are often active when stressed. A Medscape article mentioned that in adrenal PCOS, the DHEAS are overproduced. Among the common symptoms are:
- Hormonal acne (jawline area)
- Brain fog and irritability
- Insomnia or low sleep quality
- Excessive hair or balding (alopecia)
- Anovulatory cycles (no ovulation)
- Longer cycles
At the moment, the exact cause of PCOS is still unknown. There are theories that there are certain genes responsible for its development. Others look into possible metabolic causes. Therefore, there is no known cure for PCOS. It may subside, but the symptoms can come back anytime.
PCOS is influenced by several factors but the exact cause is still unknown. It is a syndrome, with different symptoms often resulting from elevated androgen levels. As a result, PCOS can affect a woman’s metabolism and lifestyle. Currently, there are four types of PCOS based on their symptoms: Insulin, Post-Pill, Inflammatory, and Adrenal.
In the next blog post, we will look into the natural remedies and common supplements to help manage PCOS. Further, we will look into exercises or practices that you can include in your daily regime to ward off PCOS symptoms.
Check our article on how you can manage your PCOS.