I can still recall my first research work in Monash University which was on Insulin Resistance in PCOS women. This is one of the most researched condition in women as it affects 12%-18% of women in reproductive age and an estimated of 70% of them remain undiagnosed. Often, women do not seek help unless they have issues with menstrual irregularities or infertility, this is when they usually find out that they have PCOS which could be mild, moderate or severe.
What is PCOS?
PCOS is a complex condition which it is characterised by hormonal imbalance, menstrual irregularities with or without appearance of multiple ovarian cysts on ultrasound. It is true that even if you have multiple ovarian cysts on ultrasound, you might not be diagnosed with PCOS.
Symptoms of PCOS:
The symptoms of PCOS are largely due to the fact that there is increased androgen (male hormone) in PCOS. Symptoms include excess hair (hirsutism), hair loss, acne, weight gain, difficulties with fertility, increased anxiety and depression and missed or irregular periods (defined as having 8 or less menstrual cycles a year or menstrual cycles longer than 35 days).
Causes of PCOS:
The cause of PCOS is unknown, although immediate female relatives (i.e. daughters or sisters) of women with PCOS have up to a 50 per cent chance of having PCOS.
Long Term Health Risks of PCOS (1):
- Increased risk of diabetes or prediabetes
- Increased risk of heart attack
- Increased risk of high blood pressure
- Increased risk of hypercholesterolemia
- Sleep apnea
- Anxiety and depression
- Increased risk for endometrial cancer.
Diagnosis of PCOS is likely to involve:
- Medical history (most importantly menstrual history)
- Ultrasound for any ovarian cysts
- Blood tests to measure hormone levels
Treatment of PCOS:
Multidisciplinary approach is needed and management of PCOS can include lifestyle modifications, weight reduction, and treatment with hormones or medications. Research has shown that even a five to 10 per cent loss of weight in those who are overweight can restore normal hormone production and help regulate periods and improve fertility.
If you suspect that you might have PCOS, it is recommended that you speak to your gynecologists or endocrinologists to further assist you in diagnosis and treatment of this condition.
1: Palomba S, Santagni S, Falbo A, La Sala GB. Complications and challenges associated with polycystic ovary syndrome: current perspectives. Int J Womens Health. 2015 Jul 31;7:745-63. doi: 10.2147/IJWH.S70314. eCollection 2015. Review. PubMed PMID: 26261426; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC4527566.
Dr Nicole Ng (MBBS) is a medical doctor with a passion in women's health and medical research