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Beware of health issues that come with PCOS

- 9 min read
written by Shield Connect

Do you think PCOS is a stand-alone medical condition? Read on to know if you are right or wrong. Some medical conditions can change your life forever and polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) is one such medical condition that occurs in unsuspecting women and changes their life forever. However, understanding PCOS and its complications would help … Continue reading “Beware of health issues that come with PCOS”

Do you think PCOS is a stand-alone medical condition? Read on to know if you are right or wrong.

Some medical conditions can change your life forever and polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) is one such medical condition that occurs in unsuspecting women and changes their life forever. However, understanding PCOS and its complications would help you to stay alert and aware and take necessary precautions on time.

In PCOS, higher levels of androgens (male hormones) interfere with or even stop normal ovulation, by altering hormone levels that are involved in the development and release of an egg at the midpoint of a woman’s menstrual cycle.

Irregular ovulation causes irregular periods or absence of menstrual cycles, infertility, and development of ovarian cysts for many but not all women, with PCOS. In addition, it may also lead to severe acne and excess growth of hair (hirsutism) on your face, neck, chest, arms, and legs. Meanwhile, insulin resistance can cause increased blood sugars, risk of diabetes mellitus and weight gain, which makes other PCOS symptoms worse.

Adverse Health Effects Associated with PCOS

Irregular menstrual cycles
Most women having PCOS have irregular menstrual cycles with infrequent periods (often more than 35 days apart) or no periods at all. Irregular menstrual cycles along with irregular ovulation or no ovulations. Hormonal imbalances are the primary reason. Your periods may be light or extremely heavy because the lining of your uterus, which you normally shed during the menstrual period, continues to thicken when you do not menstruate. Women with PCOS typically have fewer than six to eight menstrual periods in a year (the norm is about 10 to 17 periods per year).

We now know that hormonal imbalance is the primary reason why normal ovulation does not occur in women with PCOS. You cannot conceive, since your ovaries do not release an egg. Hence, PCOS is the leading cause of infertility in women, with up to 80% of women with PCOS affected.

Endometrial Cancer
Irregular menstrual periods cause the lining of the uterus to continually grow and thicken. This buildup causes the endometrial lining to bunch up together and begin taking on abnormal shapes. It also nearly triples the risk for endometrial cancer for women with PCOS.

Weight gain
Approximately 80% of women having PCOS gain weight. When the body starts storing more fats than is required – particularly in your belly area, it further increases your risk for serious chronic diseases like diabetes, heart disease, or even endometrial cancer. While weight gain doesn’t cause PCOS, it can make it harder to manage your weight. Losing just 2%-10% of your excess body fat (which is often just 2.5-5 kg for many women) is also helpful as you can improve many PCOS-related symptoms.

Excessive hair growth or hair loss
About 70% of women with PCOS develop so-called “male-pattern” hair growth on the upper lip, chin, neck, and sides of the face, abdomen, lower back, upper arms, and inner thighs. Some women also have “male-pattern” hair thinning of the scalp and top of the head. High androgen levels that stimulate hair follicles is the primary cause behind these hair changes.

High levels of androgens that occur in women with PCOS may also cause severe acne on your face, chest, and back – particularly in women who are past their teen years. One clue that would point out that the usual OTC (over the counter) treatment may not help and you will need to see your family doctor or your dermatologist for the treatment.

Other skin changes
Insulin resistance and high insulin levels circulating in your blood can lead to the development of patches of thick, velvety, skin that’s darker than your normal skin tone, called Acanthosis nigricans. These patches are often seen in the skin creases around your neck, groin, and under your breasts. Apart from darkening of the skin, you may also notice skin tags (very small skin growths) in your armpits or on your neck, which may also be a sign of insulin resistance.

Type 2 diabetes
The insulin resistance that develops in women with PCOS is a risk factor for developing type 2 diabetes at a younger age in women with PCOS than those who do not have this condition. In fact, the risk for developing diabetes is four times higher in women who have PCOS. And, at least half of all women with PCOS develop pre-diabetes or diabetes before reaching 40 years old.

Among 5%-15% of women with PCOS, diabetes may develop rapidly. Diabetes brings with it the life-long need to track blood sugar regularly, watch the types and amounts of carbohydrates you eat, constantly stay physically active, and the requirement of life-long anti-diabetes medications. Diabetes also raises your risk of developing systemic nerve damage (diabetic neuropathy), vision changes, kidney problems, and, heart diseases.

Heart disease
Women with PCOS are at increased risk for high blood pressure, stiff and clogged arteries, high levels of heart-damaging bad (LDL) cholesterol and low levels of protective good (HDL) cholesterol that occurs with poorly managed diabetes. Women with PCOS are also at higher-than-average risk for heart disease, heart attacks, heart failure, and stroke. It is often noticed that women younger than 60 years of age and with PCOS show more areas of substantial and dangerous narrowing of their arteries due to a buildup of fatty plaque in artery walls than women without PCOS.

Obstructive sleep apnea
Among women with PCOS, brief but repeated pauses in breathing during sleep are more commonly observed. Your airways close for a few seconds due to muscle relaxation. Sleep apnea can contribute to dangerous daytime fatigue, memory loss, and mood swings, and weight gain associated with diabetes, and heart disease. Women with PCOS are 30 times more likely to have disordered breathing during sleep as well as heavy snoring. They are also nine times more likely to feel fatigued during the day from poor sleep.

Mood disorders
Women with PCOS often experience anxiety, distress, depression and eating disorders. Some experts suspect it might be due to excess androgens and other hormone imbalances that generally cause mood changes, while others say distress is a common response to living with concerns like infertility, undesirable weight gain, excess hair growth and body image.

Now that you have a sense of the wide range of conditions that might occur if you have PCOS, it’s important to understand the questions that your doctor might ask and the types your doctor will want to do. An accurate diagnosis will assure you get the right type of care to help manage your symptoms and improve your risk for worrisome conditions.

What Causes PCOS and How Will It Affect My Body? [Internet].
Available at: https://www.endocrineweb.com/conditions/polycystic-ovary-syndrome-pcos/what-causes-pcos-how-will-it-affect-body. Accessed on Sep 13, 2020.

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