FFHQ Pregnancy Expert and Midwife Avril Flynn reveals everything you need to know about Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome.
Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome or PCOS is a hormonal condition that affects hundreds of thousands of Irish women of childbearing age. It is estimated that between 5-10% of women are affected (exact numbers are difficult to ascertain) and many women may suffer in silence with symptoms but are unaware of their condition.
It is a leading cause for infertility for Irish women but it is known that it is chronically underdiagnosed and until it has health implications (like trying to get pregnant), many women may not come to the attention of specialists or proper assistance.
Symptoms can start during puberty and include excess male hormone (androgen), weight gain, unwanted hair, prolonged, irregular or absent periods, infertility, acne, male-patterned hair loss, mood changes and depression, pelvic pain and sleep disturbances.
About 80% of diagnosed women may have enlarged ovaries or small cystic growths on the ovaries, but some do not. While women may suspect they might have the condition, as with so many predominantly female health complaints, it can take years for a proper diagnosis.
If you feel you have any of the symptoms, then speak to your GP about your concerns. Your GP can do blood tests and can send you for an ultrasound scan. These tests together can help you achieve the correct diagnosis.
The exact reason why some women suffer from PCOS and others don’t isn’t known. What is known is that there is a genetic component - if members of your family have it, you are more likely to have it yourself. Other factors that might impact PCOS are excess insulin, which causes increased androgen levels.
A particularly challenging aspect can be that the more weight gained by a sufferer, the more severe symptoms may be. Studies have also shown that for a lot of PCOS sufferers they have a type of low-grade inflammatory response, which can, in turn, cause an increased hormone imbalance.
It is important to note that many women with PCOS conceive naturally on their own - having the condition does not definitely mean you will have issues, but it can make things more challenging.
Women with PCOS also have an increased risk of type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome heart disease and blood pressure problems. There is no known cure for PCOS, but symptoms can be managed with hormone treatments and weight and diet management. It is also possible to have cystic ovaries but none of the other symptoms.
As with any health issue, knowledge is power. It is important to have a supportive GP who can, if necessary, refer you to a fertility expert or Endocrinologist (a doctor who is an expert in hormones).
Having the right team can help you manage symptoms and feel more in control. Remember you are not alone and for many women, being diagnosed can come as a relief as they now have an answer to their health challenges.