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Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome

 

Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) is a hormonal disorder that develops when the body produces too many androgens.  PCOS is the most common hormonal disorder amongst women with five to ten percent of the female population having the syndrome.  It can occur in any woman of reproductive age, however, PCOS can be very easily managed through conventional or natural therapies.

To be diagnosed with PCOS, two out of the following three things must be present:

  1. irregular or absent periods from an early age
  2. polycystic ovaries – diagnosed by ultrasound
  3. a change in the amount of body and facial hair, or high levels of testosterone in the blood

With polycystic ovaries, the cysts themselves are tiny, looking like black dots on the ovary on an ultrasound.  The cysts are a result of eggs that have failed to fully mature and release from the ovary.

There also seems to be a relationship between PCOS and the body’s ability to make insulin.  Many women with PCOS make too much insulin, and it is possible that the ovaries react to this by making too many androgens or male hormones.

Symptoms

The following is a list of symptoms that may be present in PCOS. Most women will not suffer from all of the symptoms and the severity of the symptoms varies widely among women.

  • infrequent or absent periods
  • difficulty falling pregnant due to lack of ovulation
  • increased hair growth on the face and body
  • acne, oily skin, dandruff
  • pelvic pain
  • weight gain or obesity
  • type 2 diabetes
  • high cholesterol
  • high blood pressure
  • loss or thinning of the hair
  • areas of thickened and dark brown/black skin on the neck, arms, breasts or thighs

Treatment Options

There are several treatment options available from PCOS – from conventional medicine, to weight loss and natural therapies.  These are all outlined below.

Conventional Medicine

Conventional medicine is one option for managing PCOS and it involves the use of different medications to treat/manage symptoms and even surgery in some cases.

Medication is used to treat many different facets of PCOS.  Some of the different types of medication that are used are explained below:

  • Contraceptive Pills – if pregnancy is not a desired option, then contraceptive pills can be used for regulating menstrual cycles, normalizing the balance of hormones, and helping to reduce acne levels.  The contraceptive pill is a cure for as long as a person remains on it.
  • Metformin – also called Glucophage, this is a medication used to treat type 2 diabetes but is also useful in the treatment of PCOS.  Because Metformin affects the way that insulin regulates glucose, testosterone production is decreased and any hair growth will slow down.  Ovulation should also return to normal after a few months of use.
  • Fertility Medication – as the main problem for women trying to fall pregnant is the lack of ovulation, medications such as Clomiphene and Gonadotropins can be used to stimulate the ovaries.  These medications can be used with Metformin, allowing lower dosages to be used.
  • Medication for increased hair growth and/or hair loss – if pregnancy is not a concern, there are medications available that can reduce hair growth or loss.  These include Spironolactone and Propecia.  Non-medical treatments to remove hair include electrolysis and laser hair removal.

Surgery is not recommended as a primary treatment option but a surgery known as ovarian drilling can be used to induce ovulation.  Ovarian drilling involves destroying a small portion of the ovary using electric current.  It can lower the levels of androgens and help ovulation to occur normally, allowing a woman to fall pregnant naturally.  However, it is not useful for dealing with changes in hair growth or loss.  The effects of the surgery may only last a few months.

Weight Loss

Maintaining a healthy weight is a good way to effectively manage the symptoms of PCOS.  As obesity is a common symptom associated with the syndrome, sticking to a healthy diet and doing physical activity will reset weight to a healthier level which will in turn lower the body’s glucose levels, help the body to use insulin more efficiently, and help to regulate the period.  It will also prevent the onset of other diseases such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

Because insulin resistance is associated with PCOS, it may be efficient to follow a diet similar to those used by diabetics.  These include glycaemic index diets, the Zone diet, Sugar Busters, and reduced carbohydrate diets.  However, it is recommended that people consume at least 150 grams of carbohydrates daily.  Working with a dietician or nutritionist will ensure that the diet that you follow is the most suitable for your body.

Physical activity is also an important part of weight loss and also helps to reduce insulin resistance.  This can be in any form you choose as exercise is most likely to be successful if it is in a form that you enjoy.  As well as burning fat, exercise also has the advantage of improving your self-esteem, and reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Natural Therapies

Natural therapies are also an important way of managing the symptoms that are associated with PCOS.  Below are three major natural therapies that can be used in PCOS management – herbal therapies, stress management and acupuncture.

Herbal Therapies can be an effective alternative to conventional medications.  There are many different herbs that can be used but some of the more common ones are:

  • Saw Palmetto – for excess hair or hair loss
  • False Unicorn Root – improves ovarian function
  • Wild Yam Root – contains the precursors for progesterone
  • Chaste Tree Berry Extract – helps balance the hormones

It should be noted that herbal treatments should be administered by a professional such as a naturopath or herbal therapist and treatment may take a while to take effect.

Stress Management is an important component in the management of PCOS as chronic stress causes excessive amounts of cortisol and androgens to be released from the adrenal glands.  Various stress management techniques can be used to calm and support an overactive nervous system and adrenal glands, reducing the amounts of cortisol and androgens that are released and therefore reducing the severity of PCOS symptoms.  Some stress management techniques that may be employed include massage, meditation, breathing exercises, guided imagery, self-hypnosis, and music therapy, amongst others.

Acupuncture has been found to be very helpful in the regulating of the menstrual period.  It also directly benefits fertility as it releases stress and encourages the body to return to a better hormone balance.  In this way, it is often used by patients to improve the quality of the sperm and the egg, reduce scar tissue, fibroids, and cysts, encourage a healthier uterine lining, and reduce the chances of a miscarriage occurring.  Acupuncture has been scientifically proven in Western medicine to be capable of releasing endorphins that reduce pain, and affect the perception of pain and a person’s mood.  It is also proven to improve the body’s circulation and immune function.



   Glossary term: Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome
 
 
 

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