PCOS: what is it?

Verified by

Maria Midstam

Midwife

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    PCOS: what is it?

    Verified by

    Maria Midstam

    Midwife

    Do you have an irregular menstrual cycle? This could be a sign of PCOS, which is an imbalance of hormones from the ovaries. In this article, we'll go through all the interesting things to know about PCOS.

    To fully understand PCOS, you also need to understand your menstrual cycle. If you have a period every month, it usually means that you also ovulate every month and if the egg is not fertilized by a sperm, you will get your period again. This is the menstrual cycle and it is counted by the number of days from the first day of your period until you get your period again.

    The length of the menstrual cycle varies from woman to woman by anything from 21-45 days. Anything within this range is considered normal, but if the number of days varies greatly from month to month, the menstrual cycle is said to be irregularwhich may be a sign of some kind of hormonal imbalance in the body.

    What does hormonal imbalance mean? 

    Your ovulation is controlled by hormones in your body, which in turn control the maturation of egg follicles in your ovaries. If you have PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome) your ovaries produce too much of the hormone testosterone, which leads to your eggs not developing enough for you to ovulate at all. In this case, the egg follicles that haven't fully matured may instead remain in the ovaries filled with several smaller egg follicles instead of detaching. These are called polycystic ovaries.

    What are the symptoms of PCOS? 

    There are several different symptoms of PCOS, but usually it is your menstrual cycle that indicates that something is not right in the form of very irregular or missing periods. Difficulty getting pregnant can also be a sign of PCOS, in which case not is because you don't have any eggs, but they simply don't mature enough to be released. 

    There are other symptoms that can also indicate PCOS, such as feeling depressed, having a decreased sex drive, having a lot of body hair or gaining weight easily. However, sometimes it's so sneaky that you have no obvious symptoms. 

    Why do people get PCOS?

    PCOS can be hereditary, but you may not inherit it and at the same time you can get PCOS without having it in your family. There is a link between PCOS and obesity, which is simply because the hormonal system is affected by obesity, which in turn may be affected by insulin levels or hormone imbalances. Insulin resistance is also a factor that can cause PCOS, but in some cases the cause of the diagnosis is not actually known.

    When and how should you seek help?

    If you find that you have your period less than four times a year, have grown a lot more hair on your body than you used to have, or are having difficulty getting pregnant, you should contact a gynecological clinic or health center. At the gynecologist's office, you will have a blood test to measure the levels of hormones in your blood, a physical examination, a gynecological examination and an ultrasound examination of the ovaries to see what the follicles look like.

    How does a treatment work? 

    Treatment can take different forms depending on what the main problem is. If you want to get pregnant, one type of treatment may be to stimulate ovulation or treat with hormones to regulate the menstrual cycle. This method can also be used to alleviate symptoms such as acne or unwanted hair growth. Treatment can also be aimed at lifestyle changes through diet, exercise or stress reduction/management. 

    Other tests may also be part of any treatment, such as measuring thyroid hormones as these may be affected and need to be regulated with medication. 

    Is there anything you can do yourself? 

    There are studies that show a link between our female sex hormones and stress, so an alternative route may be to try to reduce stress levels on your own through activities that make you feel good and relaxed. Stress can be triggered by caffeine, so you might also want to cut back on caffeine to see if your symptoms improve. Lack of sleep is also directly linked to stress, so increasing the number of hours of sleep per night can also be helpful.

    Today, there is a lot of research on dietary influences on serotonin levels and how diet can affect the brain and mind. What research has shown is that levels of serotonin in the body affect insulin levels. A lack of serotonin thus regulates your insulin to lower levels, which in turn higher blood glucose levels in the body and this is linked to PCOS. High blood sugar may be due to eating more than you need, not being very physically active or having an increased need for insulin due to stress.

    The hormone serotonin is produced in the gut and helps the intestines process the food we eat, and is a big part of how we feel as the hormone affects both our mood and well-being. The diet you eat can affect your gut flora and the production of serotonin, which can increase your general wellbeing and in turn can help with PCOS. A diet that stimulates serotonin production and balances the gut flora may therefore be recommended. You can eat foods rich in vitamin D and B12, such as fatty fish and dairy products, meat and cheese. Choosing nutrient-rich forms of carbohydrates, fat and protein is also beneficial.

    Finally, by incorporating more physical activity into your daily life, you can remedy your PCOS. This could be cycling to work, taking a walk at lunchtime or getting some form of exercise into your week that you enjoy!

    If you think you have PCOS, you can always start by calling 1177 to consult with a health professional, and they will help you get a gynecological examination.

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