Polycystic (literally meaning many cysts) ovary syndrome (PCOS or PCO) is a complex condition that affects the ovaries (the organs in a woman's body that produce eggs).
Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a condition in which women typically have a number of small cysts around the edge of their ovaries (polycystic ovaries).
Symptoms can be mild to severe and include; irregular or light periods, problems getting pregnant, weight gain, acne and excessive hair growth.
Also, in some women, levels of the hormone testosterone (or other male hormones) are higher than normal, which results in many of the typical symptoms.
Many women have polycystic ovaries without having the syndrome (without the symptoms). Some women have the syndrome, but have normal looking ovaries on ultrasound.
About one in five women in the UK have polycystic ovaries, and approximately 1 in 10 have PCOS to some degree. It can be hereditary and some women with PCOS may also have a family history of diabetes and high cholesterol.
- Absent or infrequent periods (oligomenorrhoea); a common symptom of PCOS. Periods can be as frequent as every five to six weeks, but might only occur once or twice a year, if at all;
- Increased facial and body hair (hirsutism): usually found under the chin, on the upper lip, forearms, lower legs and on the abdomen (usually a vertical line of hair up to the umbilicus);
- Acne: usually found only on the face;
- Infertility: infrequent or absent periods are linked with very occasional ovulation, which significantly reduces the likelihood of conceiving;
- Overweight and obesity: a common finding in women with PCOS because their body cells are resistant to the sugar-control hormone insulin. This insulin resistance prevents cells using sugar in the blood normally and the sugar is stored as fat instead;
- Miscarriage (sometimes recurrent): one of the hormonal abnormalities in PCOS, a raised level of luteinising hormone (LH - a hormone produced by the brain that affects ovary function), seems to be linked with miscarriage. Women with raised LH have a higher miscarriage rate (65 per cent of pregnancies end in miscarriage) compared with those who have normal LH values (around 12 per cent miscarriage rate).
What can you do for PCOS?
Drug therapy can manage symptoms of PCOS and this needs to be established with the GP or consultant. Combined with this there are several things that an individual can do if they have a tendency towards developing some or all of the elements of PCOS. Much of this involves lifestyle changes to ensure that your weight is kept within normal limits (BMI between 19 and 25).
In addition, because there is a likelihood of developing diabetes in later life and a slightly higher risk of heart disease, low-fat and low-sugar options should be considered when making choices about what to eat or to drink.
Weight loss, or maintaining weight below a certain level, will have the short-term benefit of increasing the likelihood of successful treatment and the long-term benefits of reducing the risk of diabetes and heart disease.
Weight loss is effective in reducing male hormone levels, increasing the likelihood of ovulation and getting pregnant.
There's a range of treatments available for hirsutism (excess hair growth). Once a serious increase in male hormone levels has been excluded, then local cosmetic options can safely be considered. These include:
- depilatory preparations
- laser and Intense Pulsed Light hair removal
Laser and Intense Pulsed Light hair removal have proven to be extremely successful at reducing hair growth and managing ongoing hair growth.
IPL Hair Removal
IPL stands for Intense Pulsed Light. It destroys hair by a method called selective photothermolysis as light is attracted to a pigment in the hair called Melanin.