Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome

Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, also known as PCOS or PCOD (polycystic ovarian disease), is a very common hormonal disorder in women. The disorder is thought to affect close to ten per cent of all women, and is also considered to be among the main causes of infertility and subfertility among women. The causes of PCOS itself are still not clear, and treatment of the condition is also limited to managing its symptoms and minimizing its harmful effects. There is as yet no real cure for the condition. Among the common symptoms of PCOS are irregular menstrual periods, obesity, and acne. However, there are many other symptoms too, and the severity of the symptoms and of the condition itself varies widely from one patient to the next.

Symptoms of Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome

The most common symptom of PCOS is an abnormal menstrual period. The menstrual period in a woman suffering from PCOS might be completely absent, or else it may be very light, and may occur at intervals of more than 35 days. This is the most common effect of PCOS on menstruation, but other abnormalities in the menstrual cycle are also known to occur. The disruption of the menstrual cycle of course means that fertility is also affected. In fact, many women discover that they are suffering from PCOS only when they visit a doctor to investigate to find out why they are unable to get pregnant. In some cases, the condition may cause complete infertility, while at other times, it may cause what is known as “subfertility”.

Other problems frequently associated with hormonal imbalances, such as acne and hirsutism (excessive and abnormal growth of body hair in women), are also common symptoms of PCOS. At the same time, some women may also find that their hair is thinning, and may even experience male pattern baldness. Weight gain is another common symptom of PCOS, since the body’s metabolism is affected by the condition. Other symptoms range from the relatively harmless, such as patches of discolored skin, to the potentially dangerous, such as insulin resistance, elevated levels of cholesterol, and hypertension.

The cysts themselves, although originally the defining symptom of PCOS, are today known to be only one among the many symptoms just described. In fact, some women suffering from PCOS may not have cysts at all. In other cases, many women who have ovarian cysts may not be suffering from PCOS, and may not therefore suffer all the other symptoms associated with the condition. In fact, strictly speaking, the “cysts” in polycystic ovarian syndrome are not really cysts, but are immature follicles – follicles that have prematurely stopped developing due to disturbances in the functioning of the ovaries.

Causes of Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome

The exact cause of polycystic ovarian syndrome is unknown. A few contributing factors have been identified, but pinpointing the exact cause in a specific case of PCOS is difficult. Many sufferers are overweight and also suffer from insulin resistance. While causality has yet to be established beyond a doubt, it seems likely that the high levels of insulin in the blood affect the hormonal system, ultimately leading to PCOS. Women suffering from PCOS also typically have high levels of the male hormone androgen – again this may be the cause of the other abnormalities or it may be one of the results of another fundamental abnormality. Because of the number of factors involved in PCOS, it is difficult to determine which factors are the causes and which are the effects. It is possible that PCOS is the result of a complex feedback loop involving many factors, of which the main factors are the insulin system and the rest of the hormonal system. The “cysts” themselves have of course been ruled out as a cause – as mentioned earlier, not all cases of PCOS involve ovarian cysts, and not all ovarian cysts occur in women with PCOS.

Hereditary factors are known to play a role in many cases of PCOS, but of course heredity and genetics alone are not the cause of PCOS.

Remedies for Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome

Treatment of PCOS varies considerably, as there is no universally accepted or suitable treatment. The symptoms of PCOS vary from one patient to the next, and so does the severity of these symptoms. Doctors therefore customize their treatment for each patient, depending upon what the patient’s needs are and what is suitable in each case. In addition, treatment involves managing the condition rather than curing it. The main aims of PCOS treatment are controlling insulin levels, stabilizing the menstrual cycle, getting rid of acne and hirsutism, and treating infertility.

Many patients of PCOS are eager to explore home remedies and natural remedies to treat the condition, and while it is a good idea to explore every option, this should always be done in consultation with your doctor. PCOS is a complex, disruptive, and potentially dangerous condition, and relying exclusively on home remedies and other alternative treatments is extremely risky. Be wary of treatments that make vague claims about holistic healing and “self-healing”, and remember that herbal treatments can be as harsh as “mainstream medicine” and much more unpredictable.

The most effective natural remedies for PCOS are exercise, a healthy diet, and a healthy lifestyle in general. Weight loss is a very important part of treating PCOS, and the best way to lose weight is to exercise regularly and eat healthy. There is no shortcut or quick fix here – while your medications will help to restore your hormones to their normal levels and your metabolism to its natural state, they will not help you lose weight. Find an activity that you enjoy – exercise does not have to be an hour spent walking or at the gym, unless these are things you enjoy. If you find such workouts boring, try other options – swimming, badminton, squash, jogging – the list is endless. Doing something you enjoy means you will stick to your exercise schedule more regularly, and more happily too.

When it comes to your diet, once again, avoid excessively restrictive and impractical diets. Instead of taking drastic steps like cutting out meats or fats entirely, simply limit your portions and eat more healthy preparations of the foods you enjoy.

When it comes to symptoms such as excessive hair growth and acne, home remedies have a much higher rate of effectiveness. Simple hair removal measures such as threading, sugaring, and waxing can be quite effective. For acne, a home-made facewash of honey and turmeric often helps, along with regular washing with a mild moisturizing soap.

One important lifestyle improvement you can make is to quit smoking, if you smoke. Smoking is known to increase the androgen levels in women, and may therefore exacerbate your condition. In addition, smoking will also intensify many of the symptoms and risks of PCOS, such as cancer, hypertension, and cardiovascular disease. Therefore, as far as natural measures go, quitting smoking is one of the best things you can do for PCOS.

Diet for Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome

The main aim of your diet, with regards to PCOS, is to control your weight and minimize the severity of possible symptoms such as hypertension and cardiovascular disease. The standard healthy diet – a good balance of protein, fats, carbohydrates, minerals, vitamins, fiber, and water – is of course excellent, but you may need to customize your diet a little further, depending on your symptoms and the risks that your doctor identifies. For example, if hypertension (or the risk of hypertension) is present, you may need to reduce your intake of salt and possibly increase your intake of potassium. Increasing your intake of fruits and vegetables and, to some extent, dairy products (as long as they are low-fat) may also help. Consuming more omega 3 fatty acids, which can be found in flaxseed and certain fish such as salmon, may also help.

As with every other aspect of treatment for PCOS, the condition is very complex, and you may therefore need professional help with your diet. Especially in the first few months of treatment, till your metabolism and hormonal levels stabilize, it may help to consult a dietician. This will help you to plan a diet that is tailored to suit your specific needs and symptoms.

Suggestions for Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome

Remember that polycystic ovarian syndrome must be tackled on multiple levels. Sticking to only one approach, whether it be medication, weight loss measures, herbal treatments, or any other option, will not produce any substantial results. It is necessary to address every single symptom that is present, and all the possible underlying causes of the condition. If you work closely and consistently with your doctor while doing this, you should be able to manage your condition successfully.

At the same time, remember that PCOS cannot be cured – managing the condition is a long-term commitment. In addition, due to the numerous symptoms that can be potentially dangerous, remember to monitor your health regularly. PCOS carries the risk of cancer, high blood pressure, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease, and the earlier these conditions are detected, the more successfully they can be treated.

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