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What is Polycystic Ovary Syndrome?

Updated on March 1, 2015
Pomegranates are a traditional symbol of female fertility - sadly PCOS can have an adverse effect
Pomegranates are a traditional symbol of female fertility - sadly PCOS can have an adverse effect | Source

Diabetes, PCOS and Cinnamon

Cinnamon may help diabetes, so it could help PCOS. Find out more about diabetes and the health benefits of cinnamon.

What is a Polycystic Ovary?

The ovaries are two small glands on either side of the womb responsible for releasing eggs and hormones. For most women the ovaries cause no problems. Each month one of the ovaries releases an egg. A finely balanced cocktail of the female hormones oestrogen and progesterone, together with a tiny amount of testosterone, are also manufactured.

For some women, the ovaries don't function perfectly, although it uncertain why. There does appear to be a genetic element. Women with a family predisposition to Type 2 diabetes may be at risk. Another risk indicator has been identified in the male line; early male pattern baldness in the family seems to be a risk factor. Very recent Australian research has discovered a link between parents' cardiovascular disease and their daughters' PCOS.

It is estimated that up to 25% of women have polycystic ovaries. These women have many (poly) cysts on the surface of their ovaries. Some of these women (but note not all) also go on to develop further symptoms, known as Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS). Current estimates are that 10% of women develop PCOS.

The Definition of Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome

For PCOS to be diagnosed at least two of the following conditions must be present:

  • Multiple cysts on your ovaries - more than 12.
  • Ovaries producing a raised level of testosterone (the male sex hormone)
  • Irregular, particularly light or absent periods

Hence, you should not assume that irregular periods, taken on their own, mean that you have PCOS. SImilarly, you may have multiple cysts on your ovaries and yet not have PCOS.

How can you tell if you may have PCOS? The tell-tale signs are shown below.

A Healthy Diet for PCOS

Plenty of fruit and vegetables help PCOS
Plenty of fruit and vegetables help PCOS | Source

PCOS Symptoms

The symptoms of PCOS range from the deeply embarrassing to the seriously depressing. Generally, PCOS causes problems associated with the failure to ovulate and another set of problems due to the increased production of testosterone.

  • Failure to ovulate will cause irregular, infrequent or absent periods. This in turn will lead to problems conceiving.
  • A raised level of testosterone often causes an excess of hair growth, particularly on the face, neck and chest. Conversely, it may also lead to thinning hair on the scalp. Acne may also become an issue.
  • In addition, weight gain around the middle appears to afflict a significant number of women with PCOS.

If you find yourself identifying with any of these symptoms, see your medical practitioner. A blood test and an ultrasound scan can confirm a diagnosis.

Potential Long Term Health Issues with PCOS

Most young women are concerned only with the immediate effects of PCOS. However, beyond the distressing symptoms there are longer term issues to be addressed.

  • Insulin resistance may lead to Type 2 diabetes or diabetes in pregnancy.
  • Increased risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke.
  • Possible higher risk of uterine cancer.
  • Sleep apnoea has been observed in some women with PCOS

Manage PCOS with Exercise

Jogging, like any exercise, can be beneficial for PCOS
Jogging, like any exercise, can be beneficial for PCOS | Source

Change your Lifestyle to Manage your Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome

At the moment there is no cure for PCOS. You should consult your doctor who may be able to prescribe medication for the various symptoms. You can also take an active role in managing the problem yourself by making adjustments to your lifestyle.

One major issue with PCOS is weight gain and obesity. Women suffering with PCOS are often insulin resistant, which plays havoc with their blood sugar and leaves them at risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. Dieting can help stabilise the blood sugar, but which diet?

If you search the Internet you will find several sites offering PCOS diets - you generally have to subscribe or buy an e-book. Other people suggest popular diets like the Atkins Diet. However, according to researcher Dr Samuel Thatcher, author of PCOS book, "The Hidden Epidemic", the type of diet is immaterial. PCOS sufferers need to find a sensible, healthy diet that they can commit to long term. Basically, it's the diet we all know we should eat anyway: more fruit and vegetables, less processed carbohydrates and sugars. Don't try to dump the carbs completely - it's the route to failure. Our bodies need carbohydrates to feel satisfied.

In addition to dietary changes, those with PCOS should exercise to shift weight. It need not be anything drastic, some regular brisk walking would be beneficial.

Finally, be kind to yourself. Depression and low self-esteem can often accompany a diagnosis of PCOS, hardly surprisingly. Make sure you take care of yourself and actively take a role in managing your PCOS, preferably in partnership with your doctor. Taking action will in itself make you more positive and give you back control.

You should always consult your medical practitioner before embarking on a new course of exercise.

© 2011 Judith Hancock


Submit a Comment

  • Judi Bee profile image

    Judith Hancock 6 years ago from UK

    Hi Sannel, I am happy to hear that!

  • SanneL profile image

    SanneL 6 years ago from Sweden

    Very informative hub on a very important subject!

    Now I know more about PCOS, thanks to you!


  • Judi Bee profile image

    Judith Hancock 6 years ago from UK

    Thank you Shawn, I hope your wife finds the hub useful :-)

  • Shawn Scarborough profile image

    Shawn Scarborough 6 years ago from The Lone Star State

    Great hub! My wife was diagnosed with PCOS a few years ago. I am sending her a link to this hub so she can read it too.

  • Judi Bee profile image

    Judith Hancock 6 years ago from UK

    Glad you found this interesting, and thanks for your comments!

  • gryphin423 profile image

    gryphin423 6 years ago from Florida

    Interesting hub. I'd heard of this but didn't know the details. Good information, thanks!