What is a Polycystic ovary syndrome, and who gets it?

Polycystic ovary syndrome, or PCOS, is a very common endocrine dysfunction in women of childbearing age. In fact, it is estimated that 10% of the female population suffers from this disease whose cause is still unknown. Dr. Isabel Giménez Blasco, gynecologist at the Women’s Unit of Hospital Quirónsalud Zaragoza, warns us that “it is the most frequent cause of infertility in anovulatory women”, that is, women who do not release eggs during the menstrual cycle.

Polycystic ovary syndrome
polycystic ovarian syndrome

Specifically, women with PCOS have high levels of hormones that cause irregular menstrual cycles or the absence of ovulation, among other effects. In addition, in the long term, it is related to fertility problems, diabetes and obesity.

Unfortunately, this is a little-known condition, which is also difficult to identify. In this regard, Dr. Joaquim Calaf Alsina, a gynecologist at Hospital Quirónsalud Barcelona, points out one of the main problems of PCOS: “It is not a homogeneous and well-identified disease. There are a series of symptoms, which can present with different intensities and not necessarily all at the same time, which help to identify some of these patients, but, in other cases, they can be diagnosed after an ultrasound scan”.

Do you think you have PCOS? We tell you the signs and tests for diagnosis, as well as other facts about polycystic ovaries.

What is polycystic ovary syndrome and when to suspect it?

It is an endocrine disorder in which diagnosed women have elevated hormone levels. In this sense, our gynecologist comments that “it is the most frequent endocrine disorder at the fertile age and the causes that provoke it are still unknown, but it is thought to have a multifactorial origin.”

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In a woman who does not suffer from this syndrome, the release of one or two eggs during the menstrual cycle is normal. However, in women affected by PCOS, the mature eggs are not expelled, but remain in the ovaries surrounded by liquid.

Our doctor emphasizes that, because of this, “it can cause, among others, the alteration of the rhythm of the ovulation cycle and a decrease in a woman’s fertility”.

Other common symptoms of PCOS

  • Increased acne
  • Increased hair on the chin, or other areas of the face, abdomen, and chest
  • Weight gain
  • Increased risk of type II diabetes

Risks of polycystic ovary syndrome

In the long term, it can cause alterations, such as:

  • Type II diabetes
  • Obesity
  • Hypertension
  • Increased body fat in the abdomen
  • Hyperinsulinemia is related to insulin levels in the blood.
  • Impaired glucose tolerance test related to blood glucose levels
  • Altered lipid profile, related to lipid levels in the blood.

All this can lead to a more serious situation in women’s health, as our gynecologist warns: “Women with PCOS have a higher risk of developing cardiovascular pathology due to all of the above”.

Diagnosis of PCOS: tests and common features

It is common to diagnose this disease between the ages of 20 and 30, although it can also be present at younger ages, in adolescence. In addition, it is common for women in the same family, such as mothers or sisters, to show the same symptoms as the diagnosed person.

The diagnosis of polycystic ovary syndrome requires tests such as:

  • Physical examination
  • A transvaginal ultrasound
  • A hormone analysis
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Are there common characteristics in women with PCOS?

Yes, in general, women with PCOS usually present:

  • Excess androgens, or hyperandrogenism. That is why it is possible that more hair may appear on the chin, upper lip, sideburns and other unusual areas in women, or even that they may develop alopecia more characteristic of men. They may also suffer from a type of inflammatory acne that is not relieved by the usual treatment.
  • Ovulatory disturbance. Regarding this, our gynecologist explains that “women with PCOS have menstrual cycle disorders. They have oligomenorrhea or even amenorrhea. That is, they have very irregular periods, long cycles of up to 40-45 days, or even menstruation disappears, amenorrhea”. However, there are also cases of PCOS and regular ovulatory cycles.
  • More follicles on ultrasound examination. When polycystic ovaries are observed, 12 or more follicles are found in them and the ovarian volume exceeds 10 milliliters.

How to treat polycystic ovary syndrome?

It should be taken into account:

  • In the short term, increased hair and menstrual disorders in young women.
  • In the medium term, sterility.
  • In the long term, prevention of other risks, such as diabetes, obesity, and cardiovascular conditions.

The most important thing is to maintain a healthy lifestyle, as our doctor points out: “The fundamental approach to the condition should be to promote a healthy diet and physical exercise.

In addition to these healthy habits, in some cases, the prescription of medication is recommended to treat the symptoms. For example, specialists may advise taking:

  • Hormonal contraceptives have the aim of regulating menstrual cycles.
  • Clomiphene citrate, which allows ovulation to be induced in the event that the diagnosed woman wants to become pregnant and no other sterility problem has been detected.
  • Anti-androgens, which are used to control hormones.
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Finally, Dr. Calaf comments that “there is a component of social acceptance that must be taken into account; it is not unusual, for example, for these patients to end up suffering from some type of depression associated with their pathology”. For this reason, it is important to consult specialists in the event of suspecting this disease in order to obtain a diagnosis and, thus, receive appropriate treatment.

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