Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a common hormonal disorder that affects women of reproductive age. It is characterized by the presence of multiple cysts on the ovaries, as well as a variety of symptoms .
The exact cause of PCOS is not fully understood, but it is believed to be a combination of genetic, environmental, and lifestyle factors.
- Genetics: Studies have shown that PCOS tends to run in families, suggesting that there may be a genetic component to the condition. Several genes have also been identified that may be associated with the development of PCOS.
- Hormones: High levels of male hormones in the body are a common feature. These hormones are responsible for the development of male characteristics, such as facial and body hair, acne and excessive hair growth.
- Insulin resistance: Insulin is a hormone that regulates blood sugar levels. Women with PCOS are commonly found to be insulin resistant, meaning that their body’s cells do not respond properly to insulin leading to some of the symptoms of PCOS such as weight gain, difficulty losing weight, darkened skin on the neck (acanthosis nigricans), underarm or groin, and high blood sugar.
- Inflammation: Research has suggested that inflammation may play a role in the development of PCOS. Inflammation can disrupt the balance of hormones in the body, and may contribute to the development of PCOS symptoms.
- Lifestyle factors: A diet high in refined sugar and saturated fats, and a lack of physical activity, can contribute to the development of PCOS.
In the Philippines, based on a study published in 2020, the prevalence of PCOS is estimated to be around 21% and was noted that it was higher among women who are overweight or obese.
Symptoms of PCOS can vary greatly and can also change over time. Common symptoms include:
- Irregular periods or no periods at all
- Heavy or prolonged periods
- Acne or oily skin
- Excessive hair growth on the face, chest, and back
- Thinning hair or hair loss on the scalp
- Weight gain or difficulty losing weight
- Darkened skin on the neck, underarms, or groin
- Difficulty getting pregnant
There is no one definitive test to confirm the diagnosis of PCOS. A combination of clinical and laboratory tests are used to make the diagnosis.
The tests that are commonly used to confirm the diagnosis of PCOS include:
- Pelvic Ultrasound: the presence of multiple cysts on the ovaries, a diagnostic criteria of PCOS.
- Hormonal Profile: measures the levels of hormones such as luteinizing hormone (LH), follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), estrogen, and testosterone.
- Glucose tolerance test: is used to measure how well the body is able to handle glucose, and it is used to assess for insulin resistance
- Lipid Profile: measures the levels of cholesterol and triglycerides in the blood. Women with PCOS are at an increased risk of dyslipidemia.
- Ferriman-Gallwey score: assess the amount of hair growth in certain areas of the body such as face, chest and back. It is used to evaluate the presence of hirsutism (excessive hair growth) a symptom of PCOS.
While there is no cure for PCOS, there are many treatment options available to manage the symptoms and help women with PCOS. These include:
- Birth control pills to regulate periods and reduce acne and hair growth
- Metformin, a medication used to treat diabetes that can help with insulin resistance and weight loss
- Clomiphene citrate, a medication used to induce ovulation and help women with PCOS get pregnant
- Lifestyle changes, such as eating a healthy diet, getting regular exercise, and losing weight, can also help to manage PCOS symptoms.
It’s important to note that PCOS is a complex disorder and can manifest differently in every woman. If you suspect you have PCOS, it’s important to consult with a healthcare professional for proper diagnosis and treatment.
About The Author
Dr. Coco is a highly-educated and well-qualified primary care physician who graduated from the University of the Philippines Baguio with a Bachelor of Science in Biology and her Doctor of Medicine degree from the University of the East Ramon Magsaysay Memorial Medical Center. She completed her three-year residency training in Family Medicine at Brokenshire Medical Center. She passed her diplomate exams in Family Medicine, given by the Philippine Academy of Family Physicians in 2018.
Dr. Coco is dedicated to providing comprehensive and holistic care for her patients. She is a primary care physician who believes in delivering continuing comprehensive health care for all. To her, patients are not just a number as she takes time to analyse how she can improve their overall health every chance they can get.