Of all the women’s health issues that I see, endometriosis and PCOS are the big two! And just like endometriosis, Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) is a common but often undiagnosed and then unmanaged condition. It affects roughly 1 in 12 women and people with cycles of reproductive age, but this likely varies across different populations (1). Of those who have it, about 7 in 10 may go undiagnosed (2).
If you recognise any of the following symptoms, you may have PCOS
- Irregular periods, or none at all.
- Excess androgen levels
- Acne, oily skin, and dandruff
- Excessive facial and body hair growth
- Female pattern balding
- Skin tags
- Dark patches of skin or acanthosis nigricans
- Sleep apnea
- High-stress levels
- Depression and anxiety
- High blood pressure
- Decreased libido
- High cholesterol and triglycerides
- Insulin resistance
- Type 2 diabetes
When people think of PCOS, it’s all about the ovaries, but PCOS is an endocrine and metabolic disorder that affects the body well beyond the ovaries. And here comes the complicated part. Not all women with PCOS have cysts on their ovaries, and having cystic ovaries on their own, will not meet the criteria for a diagnosis of PCOS. There is a discussion amongst both clinicians and researchers that the name PCOS is impeding research in the field and that a more appropriate name for the disorder would be “Metabolic reproductive syndrome”(3) It is also often considered a disorder of those obese or overweight. It is important to know that every body type can be susceptible to PCOS.
Prompt diagnosis and treatment is vital. Although many of the symptoms of PCOS may appear mild and unrelated, if untreated, can lead to serious health consequences such as
- Weight gain or obesity
- Type 2 diabetes
- Cardiovascular disease
- Metabolic syndrome (generally having at least two of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, high fasting blood glucose)
- Endometrial cancer
- Other cancers (breast, ovarian)
- Sleep apnoea
- Inflammation of the liver
- Increased Pregnancy-induced hypertension and pre-eclampsia
- Increased gestational diabetes
- Increased risk of stroke
- Increased risk of sudden death
- Psychological disorders
- Mood disorders (anxiety, depression)
PCOS appears to have a strong genetic component. If your mother or sister has PCOS, you have a much greater chance of developing it compared with someone whose relatives do not have the condition.
If you are concerned about the serious complications of unmanaged PCOS it is helpful to:
- Aim to control your PCOS symptoms
- Discuss any concerns with your healthcare practitioner, or women’s health/PCOS expert.
- Educate yourself as to the risks and how to avoid them.
- Learn that early intervention and early healthcare management is the key to assisting any disease state.
- Regularly check your blood pressure, blood glucose, and cholesterol
- Find support for weight and lifestyle management
- Do not try to manage the symptoms of PCOS on your own.
If you would like to discuss a pathway forward to controlling your PCOS symptoms and risk factors, please don’t hesitate to call me to book in for a complimentary 15-minute consultation. Both in-person and online consultations are available.
My-PCOS-Plan is a 3, 6, or 12-month management program that provides education, support and naturopathic advice for women with PCOS. See www.rochellewaitenaturopath.com for more information.
(1) Boyle J, Teede HJ. Polycystic ovary syndrome – an update. Aust Fam Physician. 2012;41(10):752-6.
(2) March WA, Moore VM, Willson KJ, Phillips DI, Norman RJ, Davies MJ. The prevalence of polycystic ovary syndrome in a community sample assessed under contrasting diagnostic criteria. Hum Reprod. 2010;25(2):544-51.
(3) Lujan ME, Chizen DR, Pierson RA. Diagnostic criteria for polycystic ovary syndrome: pitfalls and controversies. Journal of obstetrics and gynaecology Canada. 2008 Aug 1;30(8):671-9.