PCOS: Overview and Complications

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Last week, I shared my personal journey with PCOS to kickstart PCOS Awareness Month. There is a lot of power in sharing your story and hearing someone else's story, but today I want to touch on other symptoms and complications that can arise. To recap, PCOS (which is short for Polycystic Ovary Syndrome), is a hormonal disorder. Women who have PCOS often have elevated male hormones, called androgens. All women have androgens in their body, but women with PCOS have a greater amount than what is needed. Their ovaries produce too many androgens and may not produce enough female hormones needed for ovulation. When immature eggs fail to mature and result in ovulation, they can turn into many small cysts (hence the name polycystic ovaries). These small cysts create even more androgens, which turns into a vicious cycle. Keep reading to find out what causes it, symptoms, and complications.


Causes


Like many issues that affect the female body, we don't exactly know what causes PCOS. We do know that there appears to be a genetic component as you are more likely to have it if someone else in your family has it, such as your mom or sister. We also know there is a link between PCOS and insulin resistance. If your body is resistant to insulin, it doesn't use it well. When insulin is not used, it builds up in the body, and this may cause higher androgen levels.


Symptoms


Last week, I discussed my symptoms from PCOS, including irregular periods, heavy bleeding, hirsutism (facial hair), hair thinning, polycystic ovaries, and weight gain. Other symptoms include acne, male-pattern baldness, darkening of the skin with patches (usually on the back of the neck, armpits, and under the breasts), and depression. Many women do not realize they have PCOS until they find it difficult to conceive, as it's one of the most common causes of female infertility.


Complications


Infertility isn't the only major complication that can arise from PCOS. Here are a few others:


  • Type 2 Diabetes - As I mentioned earlier, women with PCOS are often insulin resistant, which is a risk factor for diabetes. Unfortunately, more than 50% of women with PCOS have diabetes by the time they are 40. For women with PCOS who become pregnant, they are also at risk for gestational diabetes.


  • High blood pressure - This can damage the heart and brain, resulting in heart disease and stroke.


  • Endometrial cancer - Due to irregular periods (or no periods for some women), the lining of the uterus, or endometrium, can become thick as it builds up every month without shedding. When the endometrium becomes thick and has an overgrowth of tissue, this is called endometrial hyperplasia, which can develop into cancer.


  • Sleep apnea - This is a condition where you stop breathing while you sleep. It can also lead to heart disease and diabetes.


These complications are serious, and can even be life threatening, which is why management is so critical. Next week, I'm going to discuss ways to naturally manage PCOS, followed by medical management. Make sure you check back every Wednesday as we delve deeper into this common women's health issue.


xoxo, Global Midwife


Disclaimer: This is only to be used for educational purposes, not as medical advice. Always check with your individual healthcare provider.

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