Each year, one in ten women globally will be diagnosed with polycystic ovarian syndrome, or PCOS. This means that if you know ten women, then at least one of your female friends, family members, coworkers - or maybe even you! - are experiencing the symptoms of PCOS as we speak. But what is PCOS exactly, what causes it, how to recognize the symptoms?
To put it simply, polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) is a hormonal condition. This means that it will interrupt the optimal or expected hormone levels in your body. In the case of PCOS, the androgens, the male hormones in a woman, are above the average level.
Science still hasn’t determined if genes or the environment during the development in the womb is causing this condition, so the debate is still out. The best answer we have for now is that it is most likely the product of both genes and environment, and somehow both of these factors probably play a role. Many who are diagnosed with PCOS have reported that their mothers, grandmothers or close family member have been dealing with this condition too, meaning that there is likely a genetic factor to the condition.
Symptoms of PCOS
One of the most common symptoms of polycystic ovarian syndrome is irregular menstruation. Although a missed period can be a sign of many, many things like pregnancy, stress, being sick and taking medication, climate change etc. or even more serious conditions like infections or cancer, PCOS is still one of the most common reasons.
Due to the hormonal imbalance and the high levels of male hormones, PCOS also comes with symptoms like excessive hair growth on areas that are usually affected in males - like the face, the chest or the back. Another symptom can be hair loss or thinning of the hair on the head.
The skin is also affected by this condition, and women diagnosed with it often deal with oily skin, acne and skin irritation.
Weight gain and inability to lose the excess weight as you normally would is another common sign of polycystic ovarian syndrome. What’s characteristic about weight gain caused by PCOS as opposed to weight gain from a bad diet or lack of exercise, is that, it is again caused by the excessive production of male hormones, and it results in gaining weight mainly in the abdominal area.
Sleep apnea, high blood pressure and/or cholesterol can also appear as a result of PCOS, as well as type 2 diabetes, as the pancreas is highly affected by the hormonal changes in the body.
Although it is called polycystic ovarian syndrome, not all women develop cysts. Those who do, get them as a result of the ovaries not being able to release the egg on time (follicular cysts), or the egg is released on time, but the foliculle reseals and fluids start to build up in it (corpus luteum cysts). Both of these types of cysts only show up during the menstrual cycle, and rupture by themselves, which can be very painful.
As you can tell, the spectrum of symptoms in PCOS is quite large, so in order to diagnose PCOS, your doctor may have to run several different tests to examine your symptoms. Some of these involve:
- Blood tests and measuring blood pressure - to measure the hormone levels, glucose and cholesterol
- An ultrasound - to get a closer look at your ovaries and the lining/endometrium
- A pelvic exam - to manually examine the organs affected by PCOS
- Looking into other symptoms like hair growth, depression, anxiety, condition of your skin
Menstrual Cups and PCOS
One question we receive frequently to our customer support team here at Rebel Kate comes from women who suffer from PCOS. They often ask about whether or how a cup might work for them, since most women with PCOS find tampons to be extremely painful, but many still dislike wearing pads.
Obviously there is no way to know for sure how any individual in particular will feel about their cup once inserted, as this is such a personal experience and every body is different. But we do know that we have received messages from more than one customer reporting that cups changed their life. They say that they expected the cup to apply more pressure to their already pained body, but were pleasantly surprised when the soft silicone of the menstrual cup conformed gently to their body, causing no pain, and relieving them of the need to wear pads. Again, no guarantees here, but we know it’s meant enough to a number of our customers suffering from PCOS to share lengthy posts about their experiences switching to cups both on our Facebook page and in our private inbox. This is something to consider if you are a sufferer of PCOS and would like to give a menstrual cup a try for yourself. ;)
The first thing to know is that, sadly, there is still no cure for PCOS. However, there are things you can do to help ease the effect of the symptoms. It is very frustrating for women who experience symptoms like excessive hair growth, weight gain or loss of hair on their head, as well as problems with sugar levels or cholesterol levels in their bodies. Trying to get pregnant with PCOS can also be a challenge, but your doctor can prescribe different medication to treat all these symptoms.
There are many thing you can do by yourself as well, to improve your lifestyle and make sure that PCOS doesn’t interrupt your everyday functioning or achieving your goals in life. Keep an eye out for our next article which will go more in depth on this...