With NHS figures stating that the syndrome affects 3 – 5% of women in the UK, PCOS is one of the primary causes of female fertility issues, with symptoms that can significantly impact upon quality of life and self-confidence.
Taking place between 30th October and 5th November, National Fertility Awareness Week 2017 aims to raise awareness of fertility issues such as PCOS, whilst also changing perceptions of the condition that affects so many women. The week raises funds to provide much-needed support for the 1 in 7 couples in the UK who struggle with infertility.
What is PCOS?
Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a syndrome which occurs when a woman develops large cysts on her ovaries. These cysts are formed from underdeveloped follicles which contain undeveloped eggs which often cannot be released.
The condition causes the sex hormones oestrogen and progesterone to become imbalanced, making ovulation irregular and in some cases, very rare.
Polycystic ovary syndrome should not be confused with the condition of polycystic ovaries. While one in five women in the UK suffer from polycystic ovaries, many do not all develop the symptoms of PCOS.
What causes PCOS?
While there is no exact, singular cause of PCOS, genes do play a part and the condition does run in families, meaning if your female relatives have the condition, you are more likely to develop it yourself.
Hormonal imbalance is also associated with PCOS, with sufferers often having higher levels of resistance to insulin than usual.
The condition is often diagnosed in the late teens or early twenties.
How is PCOS diagnosed?
Some symptoms of PCOS cross over with issues such as thyroid problems, meaning a PCOS diagnosis is not always straightforward. Symptoms also often vary considerably from woman to woman but usually become apparent in your late teens or early twenties.
A blood test will check your hormone levels and an ultrasound will check your ovaries for cysts.
If you are diagnosed with PCOS, you will be referred to a gynaecologist and often an endocrinologist, who specialises in hormones.
What are the symptoms of PCOS?
There are many symptoms of PCOS and these can vary from woman to woman. Some women appear to be outwardly unaffected, whilst others may suffer from many of the associated symptoms, including:
Irregular periods/no periods
Excessive or heavy periods
Excessive body hair
Abnormal mid-cycle bleeding
History of ovarian cysts
A darkening of the skin in the armpits, back of the neck or groin
What are the risks of PCOS?
Alongside fertility issues, some long term risks associated with PCOS include:
Type 2 diabetes
An increased chance of developing cancer of the womb, although this is rare
Menstrual cycle irregularities
How is PCOS treated?
While it may seem overwhelming, PCOS is a manageable condition. In the first instance, you should eat a nutritious, balanced diet, cut out alcohol and caffeine and exercise regularly, as a healthy metabolism may reduce your risk of miscarriage and of diabetes.
Medical treatment options include:
Hormone treatment such as the contraceptive pill or progesterone
Laparoscopic ovarian drilling (LOD)
Clomid – side effects of dizziness and blurred vision
Clomifene or metformin to stimulate the ovaries
Gondatrophins – this may overstimulate the ovaries, leading to a higher chance of multiple births
If you do not wish to explore medical or surgical treatment options, alternative medicine is another option to manage PCOS. Agnus castus is a traditional herbal remedy used to relieve the symptoms of PMS, whilst there are also a wide-array of supplements to help boost ovulation and regulate their periods.