There’s plenty of talk about how hormones affect our bodies—skin, mental health, libido, metabolism, bone density, and moods. Hormones influence the complex network of processes that manifest physically, as well as emotionally.
Estrogen and progesterone, the hormones produced by the ovaries, are vital in egg production and the menstrual cycle. Testosterone is also produced by the ovaries in small amounts, but sometimes there will be too much.
When there’s excess androgenic hormones such as testosterone, eggs sometimes do not develop enough in the follicle and will not be released from the ovaries. These immature follicles turn into benign cysts that stay in the ovaries. This is Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome.
The cysts are harmless and may go away on their own, but the effects of PCOS extend to the rest of the body. PCOS disrupts the regular menstrual cycle, and is the leading cause of anovulatory infertility. Anovulation is defined as the absence of ovulation, in this case because the eggs aren’t released. This affects menstruation as well in the form of amenorrhea, which is the absence of menstruation.
PCOS affects 1 in 15 women worldwide, and is said to be influenced by both genetic and environmental factors. They usually present with one or more of the following symptoms:
- Acne caused by excessive androgen hormones
- Dark patches on the skin due to hormonal imbalance
- Hirsutism, or excess hair growth following a male pattern
- Irregular periods, or no periods (amenorrhea)
- Mood swings, depression, anxiety
- Weight gain
- Hair loss on the head
A lot of women are only being diagnosed with PCOS after seeking out answers as to why they have trouble getting pregnant. It’s not exactly something that people think they would have because between the general lack of awareness on PCOS, the symptoms are not exclusive to the disorder. There’s no one test to determine whether one has PCOS, so doctors would have to look at reported symptoms, and may sometimes refer a patient to a hormone specialist.
Those who do get pregnant despite having PCOS are at an increased risk of preeclampsia (high blood pressure), gestational diabetes, pre-term labor, and miscarriage. It sounds like a nightmare.
Having PCOS also leaves one with an increased risk of type 2 diabetes due to insulin resistance, elevated cholesterol levels, heart disease, obesity, sleep apnea, and endometrial cancer. The abnormal hormone levels contribute to the development of these associated risks.
Many who are diagnosed with PCOS focus on proper nutrition and exercise in order to manage the symptoms and risks, as there is no known cure for it. A lot of women also rely on progestin-only birth control pills to help regulate the menstrual cycle and keep other symptoms in check. Those who are trying to get pregnant are often prescribed medication to help stimulate ovulation.
Despite the silence, there are many women who are bearing the burden of this condition. There may even be more who are undiagnosed, suffering in an even more stressful silence while trying to find answers.
Do you or someone you know suffer from PCOS? Tell us about your experiences. Tag us on Facebook or Instagram @iamclaireph.