Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) is a condition that affects up to 10% of women. Although it is a relatively common condition, many people have never heard of it (we’re here to help change that)! It is the most common cause of female infertility, which is why it is so important to spread the word and identify symptoms as soon as possible. PCOS symptoms are able to be treated by science, and the sooner you recognize the symptoms and get your hormones tested, the better.
Where does PCOS come from?
Researchers are still unsure about what causes PCOS to develop. Based on recent studies, scientists’ best guess is that a combination of genetics (comes from your family history) and environmental factors (such as diet and frequency of physical activity) are the primary cause of PCOS.
How do I know if I have PCOS?
One of the primary symptoms of PCOS is the overproduction of male hormones, or “androgens“. In females, testosterone (an androgen) is produced by several organs. For example, the ovaries produce about 25% of total testosterone in women. Another 25% is produced by the adrenal glands.
Some symptoms of having too much testosterone are:
- infrequent or absent menstruation
- increased body or facial hair
- metabolic irregularities (having a hard time losing weight)
For your fertility, menstrual irregularity is the most impactful symptom. When your menstrual cycle is unpredictable, there are two negative consequences:
- it makes it more difficult to accurately time intercourse (in order to conceive)
- ovulation (the release of an egg from the ovaries) may not be occurring at all.
Every month, a follicle matures and is supposed to be released by your ovaries with the intention of being fertilized by a sperm cell. However, if high levels of androgens are present in your body, an egg may not be released from the follicle.
To help identify PCOS, it’s important for you to be able to be in touch with your menstrual cycle. We define an irregular menstrual period as either:
- eight or fewer menstrual cycles per year
- menstrual cycles shorter than 21 days
- menstrual cycles longer than 35 days; or, for young women within three years of starting periods, longer than 45 days.
What can I do about PCOS?
Speak to your doctor before making drastic changes to your lifestyle and supplements. Some common treatment options are:
- Medication: If you are actively trying to conceive, Clomid is a common drug that is used to kickstart ovulation. Historically, those with PCOS have a 30% success rate at getting pregnant when using Clomid to induce ovulation.
- Losing Weight: This is easier said than done. One of the major symptoms of PCOS is having an irregular metabolism, which slows down how fast your body burns through calories. However, even losing 5% to 10% of your total body weight can improve the reproductive aspects of PCOS. Diet adjustments have been shown to be very helpful for those that have been diagnosed with PCOS.
- Taking the Pill: Birth control medications have been shown to help regulate your hormone levels and lower testosterone to give you a more consistent period. Patients have also noticed an increase in metabolic rate (easier to lose weight).