Many women are familiar with the frustrating experience of late onset acne, unwanted facial and body hair growth, and weight gain. These aspects alone are enough to make one feel uncomfortable and begin to search for individual solutions to these issues. However, these seemingly diverse and unassociated occurrences may be connected.
With an approximated 10% of women experiencing PCOS, it is one of the most common endocrine disorder among females. Furthermore, PCOS is the current leading cause of infertility among women. Clearly it is important not to discount one’s symptoms as simply cosmetic. In honor of National Women’s Health Week, take a moment to familiarize yourself with PCOS, its causes, and the methods used in treating it.
What is PCOS?
PCOS is a metabolic disorder most frequently experienced by women during reproductive age. Nearly 7 million women, including adolescent girls, are approximated as having PCOS. Unfortunately, less than 50% of those suffering from this condition receive proper diagnosis or treatment. One of the leading contributors of PCOS is an imbalance of the female sex hormones; progesterone and estrogen. For this reason, those who suffer from difficult menstrual cycles may be at greater risk of developing PCOS. Inappropriate levels of these hormones can lead to the formation of cysts in the ovaries that contain immature eggs. In some cases, one may also develop endometriosis. This condition causes the uterine lining to grow outside its walls and trigger substantial pain.
The significant hormone imbalances and abnormal growths associated with this condition result in numerous symptoms. Depending on the individual, symptom severity will range from mild to intense. One suffering from PCOS may experience some or all the following symptoms:
- Weight gain
- Increased hair growth on face and body
- Irregular or absent menstrual periods
- Mood changes
- Thinning hair on scalp
- Mental sluggishness
- Oily skin
- Skin tags
- Elevated blood pressure
- Elevated cholesterol levels
- Pelvic or lower abdominal pain
- Sleep apnea
- Cardiac disease
- Dark patches on skin
- Glucose intolerance
- Ovarian cysts
Most women with PCOS develop ovarian cysts without exhibiting the biochemical effects of the condition. Such effects include acne, hair loss/growth, and abnormal skin texture.
Although overproduction of female sex hormones plays a critical role in the development of PCOS, there are two other factors that are equally influential.
It is posited that a primary contributor of PCOS is insulin resistance. Roughly 50% of those with PCOS have insulin resistance in varying degrees. Insulin is a hormone secreted by the pancreas to help reduce glucose concentration in the bloodstream. One of the ways it does this is by improving glucose uptake and utilization by cells so they can properly convert it into energy. When one’s system is less receptive to insulin the pancreas is prompted to increase insulin production which increases estrogen levels, thereby worsening hormone imbalance and PCOS symptoms.
The male sex hormones also play a significant role in perpetuating and worsening PCOS. Testosterone is a primary contributor of the most recognizable symptoms. Cysts in the ovaries caused by hormonal imbalances increase the production of male sex hormones, which promote the undesired cosmetic changes such as acne, weight gain, skin darkening, etc. Testosterone increases the impact of PCOS, thereby causing even more testosterone to be produced, which creates a cycle of increasing symptom severity.
Clearly, due to the great influence of estrogen, progesterone, insulin, and testosterone, hormone balance is a necessary piece in resolving PCOS. Without properly regulating its hormones, the body has little chance of recovering from this metabolic condition.
There are a variety of predictive elements that may allow one to notice PCOS before it reaches severe states. The following conditions may help one identify or aid in diagnosis of PCOS:
- Adolescent girls experiencing abnormal menstruation cycles for more than two years after their first cycle.
- Adolescent girls developing extreme acne that is unresponsive to standard treatment methods.
- High exposure to BPA’s from plastics inducing excess hormone production.
- The presence metabolic syndrome contributing to hormone imbalance.
The above categories may improve one’s chances of properly diagnosing PCOS. However, the best method for resolving PCOS is identifying the various symptoms one is experiencing as being connected to one another and seeking medical assistance.
If one speaks to their physician with concerns of PCOS, there are several tests that will likely be administered. A physical exam generally includes a visual examination looking for symptoms such as acne, darkened skin, hair growth and other visible signifiers. Furthermore, the physical portion may include a pelvic exam to manually inspect for the presence of abnormal growths or cysts, on the reproductive organs. As an additional method of recognition, a Transvaginal Ultrasound may be employed to uncover abnormalities in the uterus and ovaries. Further exams may be done to test for contributing factors such as hormone levels, gauging one’s insulin resistance, cholesterol and triglyceride levels, and glucose tolerance.
Unfortunately, PCOS is frequently misidentified or mistreated by physicians as individually occurring symptoms and conditions. Truly effective treatment includes efforts to balance one’s hormones. A comprehensive approach that helps regulate estrogen, progesterone, insulin, and testosterone is ideal. There are a variety of approaches to achieve this outcome.
Metformin is a medication frequently used for treating Type 2 diabetes because of its impact on insulin levels and efficacy. Those with PCOS may find relief by utilizing this medical aid due to its ability to improve glucose metabolization, decrease insulin production, and regulate testosterone. However, this medication may interact negatively with those who have a thyroid condition. Speak to your doctor before using any new medication.
Bioidentical hormone replacement therapy may also prove to be highly effective in treating PCOS. This treatment is a natural method of rebalancing and supporting one’s hormone balance. Furthermore, bioidentical hormone replacement therapy may reduce the risk of metabolic disease and improve various bodily functions.
Don’t Discount Your Symptoms
Although it may seem like a simple cosmetic problem at first, PCOS can contribute to a wide array of issues. Therefore, it is important to be aware of the symptoms and predictive elements that allow for proper recognition and diagnosis of the condition. If you believe you may be suffering from PCOS, speak with your physician and discuss what treatment option is best for you.