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Polycystic Ovarian Disease In-Depth and Understanding PCOS Symptoms

Polycystic ovarian disease is the most common hormonal disorder found in woman of reproductive age, according to the Northwestern University PCOS research Center.

A disorder of the female endocrine system, PCOS symptoms commonly include:

  • Skin Changes
  • Irregular or Absent Menstrual Periods
  • Small Cyst in the Ovaries
  • Infertility Issues

Although most commonly referred to by medical professionals as polycystic ovaries, the condition also goes by the names – Stein-Leventhal Syndrome and Polyfollicular Ovarian Disease.

What is PCOS? A Hormonal Imbalance the Origin of Which Medical Professionals Have Difficulty Explaining

Most women may know they have female hormones known as progesterone and estrogen.

However, lesser known is the fact that male hormones, also known as androgens, are also present naturally in women – although the levels vary between individuals.

Because hormones help regulate egg production, ovulation and the menstrual cycle, women with high levels of androgens will experience an imbalance that will affect these things.

Polycystic ovarian disease is known to cause an imbalance, although medical professionals do not completely understand why this is the case.

Although, according to the Mayo Clinic, it is common for women to be diagnosed with PCOS in their 20s and 30s, PCOS symptoms are most likely to first present themselves when the woman’s menstrual cycle starts as a teenage girl.

Although there has never been an official genetic link, polycystic ovary syndrome is believed to run in families.

This means a woman, whose sister or mother has PCOS, is three times more likely to have the condition too says the Northwestern University PCOS research center.

How a Potential PCOS Diagnosis Will Be Made

In order for a woman to get an official polycystic ovarian disease diagnosis, she will need to visit her doctor, who will provide her with:

  • Questions – The woman’s doctor will ask her a series of questions regarding her menstrual cycle, her past health, as well as any other symptoms she may have.

    Most women who are diagnosed with PCOS do so because they have been experiencing PCOS symptoms such as excess facial hair or irregular periods.

  • Physical Examination – As well as looking for other symptoms, the doctor will check the woman’s blood pressure and cholesterol.

    Her weight, height and BMI will also be checked and recorded. This will help the doctor see if the woman is overweight.

  • Tests – Insulin, blood and hormone tests are also part of the PCOS diagnosis.

    As well as helping with a diagnosis, these tests help rule out potential other causes of the woman’s symptoms.

    Some of the symptoms associated with PCOS, such as weight gain, insulin resistance and excess facial hair, can also be symptoms of other hormonal disorders such as an under active thyroid.

  • Ultrasound – Although an ultrasound is not necessary for a doctor to officially diagnose PCOS, it will help medical professionals check the woman’s ovaries for cysts.

    A pelvic ultrasound will also rule out the possibility the woman has other conditions.

When you visit your doctor, don’t be afraid to ask all the burning questions that may have been worrying you about PCOS.

Ask him, what is PCOS?, as well as ask for further details on the symptoms and treatment.

Educating yourself on polycystic ovarian disease will ultimately help you understand and manage the condition, if the diagnosis shows PCOS.

The Varied PCOS Treatment Plan

The key components of any PCOS treatment plan are weight control, regular exercise, healthy food and, possibly, medication too.

As well as reducing the appearance of some of the more embarrassing PCOS symptoms, the treatment plan can also significantly reduce the risk of long-term health problems.

The Benefits of Moderate Exercise are Huge when It Comes to PCOS Management

Trying to fit in around 30 minutes a day of moderate exercise will help manage symptoms, as well as aid PCOS weight loss.

Following a Healthy Eating Plan Is also Important for Woman with PCOS

… especially those who have been told that losing weight is necessary to reduce their symptoms.

Limiting foods that are high in fat is the most obvious step. However, women with PCOS also need to keep a keen eye on their blood sugar, which means restricting the amount of carbohydrates they eat.

A registered dietician can help formulate a PCOS diet meal plan that will help manage the PCOS, while still allowing for healthy weight loss.

In Some Cases, the Doctor May Prescribe Medication for PCOS

Birth control pills are commonly prescribed to woman with PCOS, as they can help reduce symptoms and regulate the menstrual cycle.

Metformin is another common prescription for PCOS. Actually a diabetes medication, Metformin helps restore regular menstrual, as well as improves the woman’s fertility.

Electrolysis or Laser Treatments Are Sometimes Recommended

This may particularly be the case for women with serious cases of excess body hair, in particular occurrences on the face and chest.

Because these are cosmetic symptoms, opinions on its use are divided in the medical community.

However, most professionals recognise that these embarrassing side effects can affect a woman’s self-esteem, leading to other issues such as stress and depression.

So What is Insulin Resistance? – The Pancreas is Panicking

Women who receive a PCOS diagnosis may be familiar with the term insulin resistance, which is one of the more common PCOS symptoms.

Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas, which helps carry sugar from blood to the body’s cells – allowing it to be subsequently burned to create energy.

Unfortunately, polycystic ovarian disease causes the cells to respond inappropriately to the insulin which, in turn, causes the pancreas to panic and produce yet more insulin.

Ultimately high levels of insulin in the blood increases the woman’s chances of getting more serious conditions and illnesses, such as:

  • Type 2 Diabetes
  • Cardiovascular Disease
  • Stroke

According to the Mayo Clinic it is estimated that as many as one in four women with PCOS will be insulin resistant.

The most common reason for this resistance is obesity – which women with PCOS are already at a greater risk of being.

This creates a vicious circle of PCOS causing weight gain, the weight gain causing insulin resistance, which then exacerbates the PCOS symptoms and increases the woman’s risk of other illnesses.

Unfortunately, insulin resistance does make it harder for a person to lose weight.

However and fortunately it isn’t impossible!

Following a specific PCOS diet will have a positive influence on PCOS side effects relatively quickly, with many women noticing a difference in just six weeks.

It is important to note that not all women with PCOS will be insulin resistance, even if their weight is of a concern.

However, blood sugar, cholesterol and blood pressure will be tracked, tested and noted by medical professionals as a regular part of the woman’s PCOS management/treatment plan – usually once every six months for the average woman.

It is also important to note that, while obesity and PCOS often go hand-in-hand, some women with polycystic ovarian disease are not overweight.

However, following a specific diet can help reduce PCOS symptoms, regardless of the woman’s weight.

Taking the advice of a doctor or dietician is always recommended before making changes to your diet.

What is PCOS and Why Can it Affect Fertility?

Many women when they are first diagnosed with PCOS are told they may go on to experience fertility issues.

This is usually of great concern to many women, especially those who have been planning to have a family within the near future.

There are two reasons why PCOS can cause fertility issues:

1) PCOS Hormonal Imbalance PCOS Causes Many Women with Polycystic Ovarian Disease to Suffer from Irregular Periods

In a small number of cases, some women experience no periods at all.

Trying to conceive can be difficult when the woman doesn’t have a cycle to track.

It also means she probably isn’t ovulating every month too. However, having a menstrual periods does not always equal ovulation according to the Mayo Clinic.

2) Small Follicles that Naturally Appear on a Woman’s Ovaries Risk Turning into Cysts

While in most cases these cysts cause no problems or pain, in a small number of women they can become large enough to interfere with the process of ovulation.

If you have PCOS and have been suffering from a sharp digging pain in either side of your pelvis, usually after exercise or during sexual intercourse, you should visit your doctor who will arrange for an ultrasound to be carried out – this will check for any cysts that may have become problematic.

Naturally, fertility issues are going to be of concern to most reproductive age women however, once diagnosed, your doctor may well decide to refer you to a fertility specialist as part of the course.

This does NOT mean you are infertile, it is merely one tool available for medical professionals to use in the treatment of polycystic ovarian disease.

Remember – One of the Largest Causes of Fertility Problems Is Stress

If you are trying to conceive with PCOS it is important you give it time, without worrying or stressing that you may be infertile.

It can take the average couple 12 months to conceive – so try to relax and give it some time before taking your concerns to a doctor.

PCOS Symptoms Can be Controlled by Diet – Really?

There is a lot of emphasis placed on diet when it comes to PCOS treatment.

Following a low carb diet in particular is not only meant to help a woman lose excess weight, it is also believed to reduce the symptoms commonly associate with the condition.

Making other positive lifestyle changes, such as taking regular exercise and giving up smoking, can also dramatically reduce PCOS symptoms, as well as significantly reducing the risks of developing more serious long term problems such as diabetes, high cholesterol, heart disease and other conditions.

The importance of a PCOS diet in the treatment of polycystic ovarian disease has also been highlighted by several medical institute and university studies, one of the more in-depth studies taking place at Davis University.

The university found a distinct link between a low-carb diet and the management of diabetes, meaning the diet would also help women who were insulin resistant as a result of PCOS.

The university also found that overweight women with PCOS needed to lose, on average, around 10-percent of their total body weight to optimise their chances of reduced PCOS symptoms.

Ask your doctor for information on what would constitute a good PCOS, in the meantime:

  • Increase your intake of fruits and vegetables – in particular leafy green vegetables and fruits such as blackberries, blueberries and pineapple. Avoid starchy vegetables as much as possible.
  • Limit your intake of food such as bread, pasta, and rice – ideally, you should convert to a wholegrain alternative as these are much lower in carbohydrates.

    Check the packets for the nutritional values of the food you buy, this will help you understand high carbohydrate food.

  • Eat fish, poultry, and lean meat. Ideally, fatty, red meats should be avoided.
  • Cook food with olive or canola oil as these are also low in carbohydrates. Avoid sunflower and vegetable oil – although fried food should be severely restricted if you cannot avoid it altogether.

Even simple changes like the ones mentioned above will help women with polycystic ovarian disease lose weight, as well as better manage their PCOS symptoms.

If you are looking to change your eating habits don’t be afraid to ask your doctor or dietician for advice.

Changes in diet can be a challenge, especially if someone has less than healthy habits to start with. Meeting regular with your doctor will help make your dietary changes positive and permanent.

What Would You Like to Read Now?

PCOS Diet and Guideline: Natural Treatment for Insulin Resistance Symptoms

Achieving PCOS Weight Loss
with a Healthy Low Carb PCOS Diet

Losing Weight with PCOS and Keeping That Weight off: Experiences by a PCOS Mum

Most Frequent PCOS Symptoms: Treating PCOS Naturally via a Low GI Diet

Natural and Medical PCOS Treatment Options Explained

Treatment for PCOS: A PCOS Diagnosis Does not Mean Infertility

What is PCOS (Polycystic Ovary Syndrome): Research-based Information on Symptoms on Treatments

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