polycystic ovariesPolycystic ovarian syndrome, or PCOS is a condition affecting the functionality of a woman's ovaries. It is thought that approximately one in every ten women in the UK suffer from polycystic ovaries, but as the problem can go undiagnosed for many years, it is impossible to determine exactly how many women are suffering from this issue.

Polycystic ovaries have three main symptoms:

  • Benign cysts of up to 8mm, which develop on the ovaries
  • Irregular and infrequent ovulation
  • high levels of adrogens "male hormones" in the body

While PCOS does not pose any threat to life, it does carry a cocktail of distressing symptoms with it, some which can unfortunately have a detrimental impact on a woman’s life. Some of the symptoms include: facial hair, Infrequent or absent periods, irregular or heavy periods, acne, weight gain, thinning hair, pelvic pain, anxiety, sleep apnea and infertility.

What causes PCOS?

The definitive cause of PCOS is unknown, although many experts believe the condition is hereditary. However, the main underlying cause seems to be a hormonal imbalance. When the levels of the sex hormones, oestrogen and progesterone, are out of balance this leads to the growth of the cysts.

It is also thought that insulin could be another factor in women with PCOS. Insulin is a hormone that controls the change of sugar, starches, and other food into energy. Many women with PCOS have too much insulin in their bodies, which then increases the production of androgen. High androgen levels can lead to: acne, excessive hair growth and problems with ovulation.

Is there a cure for PCOS?

Although there is no cure for PCOS, there are treatments and support available to help you deal with the symptoms. Treatments vary depending on the severity of the condition, and whether a woman intends to have children.

Lifestyle changes

Statistically, women who are overweight are more likely to suffer from PCOS. This puts more pressure on the body and adds to the list of symptoms associated with the condition. Making changes to your diet and incorporating exercise can go a long way towards easing the symptoms. This is because effective diet and weight management plays an important role in controlling insulin levels in the body and balancing numerous other hormone levels.

This includes limiting the intake of processed foods and foods with added and hidden sugars. Start adding more wholegrain products and add lots of fruits, vegetables, and lean meats to your diet.

These dietary changes, combined with regular exercise, should go some way to helping to ease your symptoms.

Birth Control Pills

Oral contraceptive pills contain two types of synthetic female hormones, progestin and oestrogen. There are various different kinds of oral contraceptives available.

They help by regulating the menstrual cycle so your periods aren’t so sporadic. The pill can also ease heavy periods so you don’t have to put up with the cramps and heavy bleeding associated with PCOS. Some pills can also help to reduce the symptoms of unwanted facial hair and acne.

Talk to your doctor or pharmacist about which contraceptive pill may be best for you. And remember, if you’re trying to get pregnant, this treatment wouldn’t be an option for you.

Medications for increased hair growth

One of the most concerning symptom for PCOS sufferers is the excessive growth of facial hair. This physical symptom can be devastating to a woman's self-esteem. However, there are medications out there to help.

Vaniqa is a prescription medication used for the reduction of unwanted facial hair in women. Going by the medical name eflornithine hydrochloride, it is a cream applied directly to the skin and works by slowing down the growth of hair. It can be a very effective treatment, as the reduced level of growth means that the need for hair removal procedures is significantly reduced.

Fertility medications

Although it’s not impossible to become pregnant when suffering from PCOS, it can make it more difficult to conceive naturally. This is because the ovaries don’t ovulate as regularly as they should.

There are various different medications available to stimulate the ovulation process, making it easier for the woman to conceive. If you’re suffering from PCOS and trying to get pregnant, talk to your doctor to discuss the options available to you in order to assess the right solution for you.