The Gist of It: 

  • One in 15 women worldwide are currently affected by this disorder and cannot get pregnant.
  • Obesity, elevated blood pressure and high cholesterol levels might be contributing to PCOS.
infertility
Image source: parentsindia.com

There are many couples who have always wanted children but are unable to do so, even after multiple tries throughout their marriage. Sadly, it is becoming a more regular fact that the cause of the problem is polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). 

What is PCOS? 

PCOS is a problem where a woman’s hormones are out of balance. This causes irregular and ovulation, making it difficult to get pregnant.

PCOS is one of the most common female endocrine (glands that secrete hormones) disorders – with one in 15 women worldwide currently affected by this disorder. It is in fact one of the most common endocrine abnormalities in reproductive-aged women (16-40 years) around the world.

The syndrome acquired its name from the multiple (or poly) ovarian cysts that can be seen during an ultrasound examination. These “cysts” are in fact immature follicles, not cysts. Hence, polyfollicular ovary syndrome would have been a more accurate name.

PCOS
Source: whitelotusclinic.ca

The follicles have developed from primordial follicles, but the development has stopped (“arrested”) at an early antral stage due to the disturbed ovarian function. The follicles may be oriented along the ovarian periphery, appearing as a “string of pearls” during ultrasound examination (see image above).

Symptoms of PCOS

The symptoms of PCOS may begin in adolescence or remain hidden until later in life when symptoms and/or infertility occur.

Symptoms can include: 

  • Irregular or missed periods
  • Infertility
  • Excess hair
  • Acne
  • Insulin resistance which might increase the risk of diabetes

Obesity a Cause of PCOS

PCOS occurs when women have excess male hormones (testosterone) which are able to cause cysts to form in the ovaries. The ensuing ovulatory problems can lead to infertility and sometimes patients can develop insulin resistance, a condition in which the normal amount of insulin secreted by the pancreas are unable to be used by the human cells – thereby boosting the risk of contracting type 2 diabetes.

This syndrome is often associated with obesity, elevated blood pressure and high cholesterol levels.

Given the soaring levels of obesity worldwide, this trend is expected to trigger a major new infertility crisis among women today – resulting in more couples struggling to conceive as women suffer more fertility-related problems.

Genetics may also be a factor in PCOS and it can be inherited from either parent and causes decreased fertility.

Treatment Options for PCOS

The Drug Route
There are many androgen-lowering drugs and insulin-sensitising medication available in the market which are part of the treatment available for women who have been diagnosed with PCOS.

Since the primary problem with PCOS is the lack of ovulation, different medication can be prescribed to help the ovaries release eggs and in vitro fertilisation (IVF) can also be used to help woman with PCOS to conceive.

However, women with PCOS appear to have an increased risk of miscarriage, pregnancy–induced hypertension, gestational diabetes, premature delivery and other complications during the pregnancy term.

The Natural Route
Rather than resorting to medical interventions to get pregnant, making a lifestyle change and successful losing weight has been proven to be the most effective method in restoring normal ovulation / menstruation.

Exercising regularly and maintaining a healthy diet and weight are the key treatments for PCOS. Even losing as little as 4.5kg can help get your hormones balanced out and regulate your menstrual cycle, which ups your chances of getting pregnant.

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If you’ve battled with PCOS before but is now a happy mommy, share your success story in the comments below to inspire others who may be going through the same difficulties.

 

Edited by: The HealthWorks Team
Contributed by Dr Adeline Chia, lecturer and researcher from the School of Biosciences, Taylor’s University.
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