My world crashed down on me when I heard what the doctor had to say after I got the results of my check-up. “You have Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome. It is caused by hormonal imbalance and it might interfere with your fertility”, she said. The word fertility rang in my head like a resounding gong. The thought that I may not be able to conceive was utterly heartbreaking. I could barely remember the things that she told me after that, I was too preoccupied with my own misery.
PCOS or polycystic ovarian syndrome is the most common hormonal disorder of women on their reproductive age. Women with PCOS usually have small benign cysts on their ovaries resembling a string of pearls upon ultrasound. A similar number of cysts may occur in women without PCOS yet they may not have the disease because the cysts do not seem to cause the problem. Researchers believe that an imbalance in the blood sugar control mechanism of women with PCOS may be related to the development of the disease. Insulin resistance occurs to about half of the women with PCOS wherein the pancreas needs to produce more insulin than normal because the body is not able to use it efficiently. Insulin is the hormone that keeps the blood sugar within normal limits and if not properly controlled might lead to diabetes. The impaired mechanism then stimulates the body to produce excessive amounts of androgen or the male hormone. This in turn interferes in normal ovulation thus affecting fertility.
Because PCOS is a complex disorder involving a lot of mechanisms in the body, it is but important to recognize its varied symptoms. Early on with the disease, women may experience irregular menstrual periods which may range from nine cycles to none in a year. Aside from that, about 30% of them experience heavy, irregular vaginal bleeding. Some disturbing symptoms may also occur because of the increased level of androgen in the body. Hair falling off the scalp is distressing especially if it is noticeable everyday. Hirsutism or excessive hair growth also occurs for some women. Unwanted hair tends to grow on their face, back, stomach and chest. Acne and oily skin also occurs which leaves a lot of women with altered self-image, oftentimes leading to depression.
As the disease progresses, gradual symptoms also occur. Weight gain on the upper body is very common among women diagnosed with PCOS and it mostly dwells around the abdomen. Thinning of the hair or alopecia is also evident at this time. Women may also find it hard to become pregnant because they are not ovulating. For some who have successfully conceived, the occurrence of a miscarriage is high. It is estimated that around 45% of women have miscarriages and some sources say it may be more. The cause is not known but they may be linked to the quality of the egg or how it would develop in the uterus. As a result of too much insulin, skin tags or dark velvety patches under the arm, on the back of the neck or in the groin or genital area may also occur.
With PCOS, one may have only a few symptoms or many symptoms. And unfortunately, there is no standard criterion for its diagnosis. Some doctors give a diagnosis only after a woman show a minimum of three symptoms but the most important thing is to receive proper medical attention. Traditional treatment is in addressing the symptoms thus it is varied for every individual. Doctors have different approaches as well to treating it and it is best to undergo certain tests first to rule out other disease conditions as well. Medications to help control the symptoms are essential in controlling the long term efffects of the disease. Doctors often prescribe birth control pills to help regulate the menstrual cycle and minimize the appearance of acne. Most doctors also prescribe medications to address high insulin levels because it has been found helfpul in regulating periods and promoting ovulation. Other medications are also prescribed to help control blood pressure and high cholesterol levels. Fertility medications like Clomid is also commonly prescribed for those trying to conceive.Although it may be unalarming at the beginning stages, PCOS if left untreated, may lead to serious health problems including a risk to endometrial cancer, type II diabetes, high blood pressure and cholesterol and cardiovascular disease.
Easing the symptoms of PCOS may also be done the natural way by eating healthy and excercising regularly. Maintaining a healthy weight has been found helpful in controlling glucose levels as well as promoting fertility. The many bodily changes that occur because of PCOS can prove to be an emotional roller coaster ride for some women. The yearning to have a baby coupled by the unwanted physical changes may cause havoc to one’s self esteem. In this day and age where information is readily available, awareness is the key. It is essential to recognize your symptoms and proactively manage it by proper diet and exercie. Choosing a good fertility specialist who understands the latest treatments may also be helfpul in winning the battle against PCOS.
As for my own battle, I had a miracle baby last September 17, 2005. After a very difficult pregnancy, we welcomed her into this world with much love and gratitude. Now the process of properly addressing my symptoms have begun. I still have days when I dwell too much on my appearance but the thought that I have my daughter gives me hope. For as long as I have the unwavering support of my family, I have every reason to believe that I can overcome the odds.
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