If you are a woman aged between 20 and 40, and experiencing specific syndromes such as severe acne, dark skin patches, excessive hair growth on face or stomach, weight gain or irregular/no periods, these could be warning signs. You need to see your doctor and find out whether you are suffering from polycystic ovary syndrome, or PCOS, a hormonal imbalance that affects a woman's ovaries. Diagnosing PCOS is not difficult, though. You should either go for a simple blood test to check the level of androgen (a male hormone) or get an ultrasound done to find out if you have cysts in the ovaries. Left untreated for a long time, it could result in diabetes, hypertension, heart conditions and other obesity-related issues as well as delayed pregnancy, a risk of abortion or infertility.
Globally, one in five women of reproductive age gets affected, but very few get the right diagnosis early on as the condition has not received a lot of attention. "PCOS is on the rise," admits Dr Sapna Raina, Senior Consultant, Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, at Narayana Health, Bengaluru. "Unfortunately, many of the women executives who consult me have some form of PCOS. It is a growing trend and has doubled over the past five years or so."
Doctors point to several factors behind PCOS, and list obesity and stress as significant risk factors. The condition could also be genetic. It could be typically linked to the kind of lifestyle most working women have nowadays - sedentary and stressful with rapid changes in work schedules.
What can women do to prevent or control the condition as there is no cure yet? A good starting point is to lose weight and keep it off. A fit body will ward off many problems, including hormonal imbalance. Take to more physical activity - walk, climb the stairs, walk up to a colleague's desk instead of speaking over the phone. Watch out for periods issues and visit a doctor if there are irregularities. It also helps when you go for healthy eating. A high-fibre, low-carb diet with minimum sugar intake is always recommended. For overweight patients, weight loss, exercise and lifestyle changes are recommended as initial options. Women suffering from metabolic complications such as diabetes or hypertension at an early age and planning for a baby might be prescribed insulin sensitisers such as metformin, thiazolidinedione or clomiphene citrate.
The Puzzle and The Cure
Over the years, doctors and researchers have struggled to deal with PCOS. There has been a lab-level breakthrough as researchers could cure it in mice and a clinical trial has been scheduled, the New Scientist reports. A new set of worldwide clinical guidelines has also been released and more than 70 countries have agreed to implement them. Research is on to understand the genetic basis of metabolic abnormalities in PCOS patients for possible gene therapy. Researchers are also trying to unravel whether PCOS in moms leads to autism in newborns. A new study published in Molecular Psychiatry shows that the hormonal imbalance could raise the rate of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in children. Dr Raina concurs, saying women with untreated PCOS face abortion risk in 40-50 per cent cases while their babies could have ASD in 50-60 per cases.