PCOS is a very common, yet often misdiagnosed condition and many women will call themselves as polycystic ovarian disease (PCOD) or polycystic ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) without knowing it's full meaning or implications.
What is PCOS?
PCOS is not a disease, but a syndrome- which literally means that it is a group of symptoms resulting from involvement of multiple systems of body. PCOS can affect anyone from a young adolescent girl to an adult woman even beyond a woman’s reproductive age. The name polycystic ovary is derived from the typical appearance of the ovaries, wherein multiple small cyst like spaces can be seen inside the ovaries. But, one must understand that this polycystic appearance of the ovaries is an outcome of the syndrome rather than being a cause for that.
So, how does one suspect if a woman is having PCOS and whom to contact for its treatment?
The PCOS can present in many ways, which can range from common symptoms such as weight gain, acne, facial and excessive body hair (hirsutism) and irregular menstruation to very serious medico-social issues such as infertility, diabetes, hypertension and uterine cancers.
PCOS can manifest for the first time right at puberty. The affected girls may gain a lot of weight all of a sudden and may continue to struggle controlling weight for many years. Weight gain could be accompanied by menstrual irregularities, facial hair and acne, besides many other similar symptoms. While diagnosing PCOS at this stage can be really tricky because there is no single test that’s diagnostic of this condition, most of the symptoms described above can actually be controlled with help of oral contraceptive pills.
However, when these women on birth control pills start planning a baby and have to stop taking the pills, many of them discover that they are unable to conceive. Consultation with an infertility expert is very helpful at this stage, as the expert can correctly diagnose the problem and also advise on the best way to manage the symptoms. But, the affected woman has to take the ownership of her treatment in order to beat PCOS. This would include maintaining an active lifestyle with regular exercise and having a low carbohydrate diet in an effort to keep the weight under check. These interventions go a long way in controlling the symptoms of PCOS, as weight gain initiates a vicious cycle of further hormonal imbalance, which in turn leads to more weight gain. Lifestyle correction coupled with appropriate use of medications to reduce the insulin resistance is the best way to manage PCOS.
What if one gets diagnosed with PCOS? Is it over for her now?
Most common question that I get asked by my patients is if PCOS can be cured? Very sadly the answer is No- PCOS cannot be cured! But, the symptoms of PCOS can most certainly be controlled using appropriate medical treatment and lifestyle interventions described above. The key to control of these symptoms is diagnosis at an early age and well titrated intervention from an expert. Remember that it is a condition of hormonal imbalance in the body, which results in irregular ovulation, over production of male sex hormones and resistance to the action of insulin. So, in very simple words, all the interventions would be focused on correcting this hormonal imbalance in the body.
So, what can be done to manage infertility in PCOS patients?
Most women with PCOS are able to overcome the challenge to their fertility with proper treatment. This treatment may vary from simple measures such as oral tablets to induce ovulation to IUI and all the way to IVF. One should always seek an expert’s opinion for management of PCOS when planning for a baby, as the doctor is the best person to support in this endeavor. Always remember that PCOS stays with the woman throughout her journey of life and she has to remain vigilant to identify its long term risks such as diabetes, hypertension and uterine cancers in their early stage!
- Dr Parul Katiyar
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