Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome. I have had a few health coaching clients that have come to me with this diagnosis, delivered to them by their gynae. She said some things about scans, cysts and possibly infertility. She’s not wrong. Getting a diagnosis like this is hard, but it isn’t as black and white as you may initially think. It’s a diagnosis that up to 15% of women receive in their lifetime. It’s complex and multi-faceted. It’s also easy to understand with the right resources, tools and explanation. This article aims to provide just that.
PCOS – what is it?
Men and women have different levels of hormones. These hormones take messages to parts of your body and tell them how to work. They are really important in growth, especially during puberty, when your body and moods change. PCOS happens when there is a hormonal imbalance. Therefore, it can affect how your body looks, your mood and your menstrual cycle.
Women with PCOS have higher levels of androgens than normal. Androgens are responsible for “male” features and reproduction. These are hormones like testosterone and DHEA. Not only is there a hormonal imbalance, but there may also be a metabolic (how quickly you can burn fat) and blood sugar disorder, as well as an inflammatory component. People with PCOS have higher levels of insulin, along with insulin resistance. Insulin resistance occurs mostly with type II diabetes, and obesity, making it difficult to lose weight. However, in the case of PCOS, what we notice is periods may stop, or become infrequent.
The PCOS inflammatory component goes hand in hand with the blood sugar problems. It is known that PCOS is associated with low grade, chronic inflammation.
You probably have a picture in your head of what this woman will look like, especially since I’ve been talking about obesity. BUT, it’s a bit more complicated than that. The hormonal imbalance can have the complete opposite symptoms, i.e weight loss. Women with PCOS can also be overtraining, not eating enough calories and experience amenorrhea – underweight, overtrained (stress to the body), and absent periods. What we do know, is that PCOS is a complex Jenga puzzle with many pieces that fit together, to create a small or large puzzle…or problem.
These problems can be so different that one might experience hair falling out (alopecia) or even the opposite: too much and abnormal hair growth, such as facial hair. Depression is also a symptom of PCOS that’s useful to look out for.
How to find out if you have PCOS
So, if some or all of the following apply to you: abnormal hair growth, acne, infrequent or absent periods, you are perhaps obese , or underweight, or depressed, and you think you might have this kind of Jenga puzzle, your doctor may test for:
- High levels of androgens (testosterone and DHEA)
- Cysts (actually, follicles) on ovaries seen on ultrasound
- High levels of CRP (inflammatory markers)
Do you think PCOS might be the cause of your missed periods? You’ve gone through the signs and symptoms, and have asked yourself, “could this be me?” Go into your next gynae consultation with this knowledge on hand and you’ll be feeling empowered and in charge of your health.
In the next article we’ll talk about the causes, and what you can do about your PCOS symptoms.