Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) - Basics
Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome is a condition that impacts women’s hormone levels, and their period cycle. ‘Polycystic’ means multiple cysts. In this condition, a woman develops cysts in her ovaries, which in turn affects her hormonal balance, and can cause irregular periods. PCOS can also have an adverse effect on a woman’s reproductive health. However, some women might not have cysts but still have the symptoms of PCOS.
When was PCOS discovered?
Vallisneri, an 18th-century scientist of Italian origin, was believed to be the first to discover Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome. In his report, he gives a detailed account of a married woman’s condition. She was unable to procreate and had large-sized ovaries. Later, in the year 1935, a surgical intervention gave a better image of the symptoms of PCOS. This was discovered by Stein and Leventhal, who listed some common features in a group of women who didn’t regularly menstruate, and had larger ovaries. Although, it wasn’t before the late 20th Century that the diagnosis of PCOS formally came out in the open at a National Institute of Health (NIH) sponsored conference on PCOS.
Decoding the Uterus and its Functionality
- The uterus is an organ of the female reproductive system. Its main function is to encase the fetus and provide an environment for it to grow during pregnancy.
- The uterus has two fallopian tubes that connect to the ovaries.
- Ovaries provide the mature egg for fertilization when a woman ovulates.
- Pregnancy occurs when the sperm travels through the fallopian tube and fertilizes the egg.
- But if pregnancy doesn’t occur then the uterine wall, also known as endometrium, is shed, and blood flows out of the body. This occurrence is known as menstruation.
What is different when a woman has PCOS?
Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome has a direct impact on the uterus. Ovaries with PCOS develop cysts and don’t ovulate regularly (release eggs). Ovaries are also responsible for producing hormones (estrogen and progesterone) that help build the endometrium lining. If a woman develops PCOS it causes a hormonal imbalance, and this has a negative impact on the development of a healthy endometrium. This, in turn, leads to irregularity in periods, and can cause difficulties in pregnancy. It is important to note here that not every woman with PCOS will necessarily have cysts in her ovaries. The imbalance in hormones and their impact on the uterus can occur even in the absence of cysts.
What are the causes of PCOS?
PCOS can be caused by various factors. It can arise due to environmental changes, stress, poor lifestyle choices, which may comprise of unhealthy food habits, lack of exercise or sleep. It is documented that some cases may be genetic or arise due to insulin resistance in the body, thyroid or cholesterol.
Recognizing the Symptoms of PCOS
Hyperandrogenism: Ovaries in a woman’s body release both estrogen and testosterone. Testosterone is the male hormone and is usually produced in a small quantity in women. However, when a woman develops Hyperandrogenism, she produces high levels of Testosterone which leads to hair loss, acne and delayed periods.
Irregular Periods: A major symptom of PCOS is an irregularity in your period cycle. This is caused due to hormonal imbalance which can delay periods for days and months.
Excessive Hair Growth and Acne: Immoderate growth of hair in women, likely on the face, back or on other body parts, is another symptom of PCOS. This is termed as Hirsutism and is caused due to excessive generation of Testosterone in the body. For some women, variation in hormone levels can also lead to acne.
Infertility: This is caused when ovulation is hampered. Ovulation may get affected due to the disparity in women’s hormone levels. Even if ovulation takes place, it may still be difficult to conceive.
Depression and Anxiety: A lot of women tend to be insulin resistant when they have PCOS. This can impact hormone levels which can, in turn, lead to depression.
Thinning Of Hair On The Scalp: Even though women with PCOS may have more hair on the body than other women, they can develop Alopecia, which results in thinning of hair on the scalp. This may also lead to patches of hair loss which can be stressful for many women.
Sleep Apnea: This is a respiratory issue where a person feels difficulty in breathing while they are asleep. It can ‘pause’ your breathing while you're asleep and can last up to one minute. This is also a symptom of PCOS.
All the symptoms are based on the variation of women’s hormone levels. They are all related to each other and hence a person can have more than one symptom. The treatment for Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome is not too cumbersome. It is a lifestyle disease and if an individual chooses to better their habits and lifestyle, they can definitely maneuver the syndrome and live a PCOS-Free life.
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