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Understanding Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS)

Updated: Oct 18, 2023

Let’s talk about Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS).

This condition is always a hot topic and rightfully so. Upwards of 20% of all females suffer from PCOS and it often goes undiagnosed. But, it’s also important to mention that I have also seen it incorrectly diagnosed.

So, let’s get into how PCOS is diagnosed and how it affects the female body.

woman on a beach with camera

Image by @nycxclothes

What is PCOS?

It is not fully understood how it happens. A mix of genetics, your environment and possibly lifestyle are all in the mix. But overall, PCOS is a hormonal condition in females - a hormonal imbalance if you will - where there is usually an abnormally high amount of androgen hormones. One such androgen hormone is Testosterone. This imbalance can disrupt the female hormone cycle.

How is PCOS diagnosed?

Diagnosing PCOS typically relies on the widely accepted "Rotterdam Criteria,". This is a set of 3 PCOS signs for which if you have 2 out of the 3, the diagnosis of PCOS is made.

  1. Elevated Androgens (ie. Testosterone) or signs of elevated androgens such as excess and abnormal hair growth

  2. Skipping periods or having no periods.

  3. Ultrasound findings of small cysts arranged in a circular pattern around the edges of the ovaries, also known as the "string of pearls" appearance.

There are more specifics to the criteria but that’s the gist.

You must be evaluated by a Physician to determine if you have 2 out of 3 Rotterdam criteria. But, if you are diagnosed, you should rightfully understand how this affects your body.

Impact of PCOS on the Female Body

When I speak to my patients about it I separate the effects into ‘Gynecology concerns’ and ‘General Medical concerns for your life.’

From a gynecology standpoint there are two concerns.

  1. You have a higher chance of hyperplasia (pre-cancer) and cancer of the uterus if you are not having a period. This is because the lining of the uterus that you bleed monthly is not being shed and is building up within the uterus. When anything grows in an unregulated fashion in the body, this leads to irregularities in that tissue leading to possible cancer and pre-cancer forming.

  2. The second gynecology concern is a higher chance of infertility. This is because of poor quality to your “eggs” and the lack of periods or infrequent periods which are a sign that you are not ovulating. Ovulation is a key component to getting pregnant naturally.

Of the general medical concerns. The main two are that a female with PCOS has a higher lifetime risk of diabetes and heart diseases. The reason as to why is not fully understood. But, there is a role that hormones play in high cholesterol and obesity which are clear connections to both conditions. So, if you have PCOS, it’s important to see a Gynecologist as well as a General Medical physician yearly through your life.

This is an important overview to Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS). I urge that if you have this or think you have this, to take this information I have presented and have important conversations with your doctors so that you can be your healthiest self.

DISCLAIMER: Features published by Adaaba are not intended to treat, diagnose, cure or prevent any disease. Always seek the advice of your GP or another qualified healthcare provider for any questions you have regarding a medical condition, and before undertaking any diet, exercise or other health-related programme.

Listen to Dr C's podcast on Spotify , Audible , Apple Podcasts & follow her on instagram @forvaginasonly for all things women's reproductive health.

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