Female sex hormones play a vital role in a woman’s body. They are essential in sexual development, reproduction, and general health. Adrenal glands and ovaries are the main glands that produce sex hormones in women. Any condition that affects how the ovaries work has the potential of causing hormonal imbalance in women. Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) is one of the many health conditions that can affect how ovaries work. It is a common condition in reproductive-age women. Between 2.2 and 26.7 percent of women between the age of 15 and 44 years have PCOS.
What is Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)
Poly is an ancient Greek word that means many or multiple. Cysts are sac-like pockets of membrane tissue containing fluid, air, or any other substance. Polycystic Ovaries syndrome refers to having multiple fluid-filled sacs on the surface of an ovary.
There are several types of ovarian cyst. The most common types of ovarian cysts are:
Functional cysts are a result of the menstrual cycle. Ovaries grow a cyst-like structure known as a follicle to produce progesterone and estrogen hormones and releasing the ripe egg when you ovulate. There are two types of functional cysts: follicular and corpus luteum.
During ovulation, the mature egg bursts from its follicle and moves down the fallopian tube. A follicular cyst occurs when the follicle fails to rupture and release the egg. A normal follicle burst to release an egg when it is about 17 mm in size. When it fails to burst open to release the egg, it continues to grow and ends up forming a cyst.
A follicular cyst will go away on its own. That can take several days to months. If it fails to rupture on its own for months, your doctor will recommend some treatment to shrink or remove it.
Corpus Luteum Cyst
The Corpus luteum is the structure that forms from the cells of the follicle that was housing the maturing egg. It produces hormones that regulate the menstrual cycle and early pregnancy. If there was no fertilization, it produces hormones for about 14 days and then degenerates into a scar.
The corpus luteum can fill with fluid and form a cyst. The cyst can take from a few weeks to three menstrual cycles to disappear. If the cyst is causing symptoms like painful menstrual bleeding, your doctor will recommend some treatment to remove or shrink it.
Other Types of Ovarian Cysts
The other types of ovarian cysts are not related to the menstrual cycle. They include:
Ovarian Dermoid Cysts
They are cystic tumors that form in an ovary. These cysts can contain things like skin, hair, and teeth because they form from embryonic cells. They often occur in females aged between 15 and 40 years and are rarely cancerous.
They are a type of benign tumor that forms from the ovarian tissues. They develop on the surface of the ovary and can be filled with mucous material.
Both cystadenomas and dermoid cysts don’t disappear without treatment. They can become large (12 inches diameter or more) and cause the ovary to shift from its position. They can even cause ovarian torsion that can stop blood flow to the ovary. Apart from torsion, an ovarian cyst can rupture and cause internal bleeding and severe pain.
Polycystic Ovary Syndrome Causes
Doctors still don’t know the exact cause of non-functional ovarian cysts, but there are several factors that can heighten your risks. Some of these factors include:
PCOS can run in families. The genetics of PCOS is not fully understood, but some researchers believe that some genes contribute to the condition. If one monozygous twin with PCOS, the other twin is highly likely to have PCS. First-degree relatives to an individual with PCOS are also at a high risk of having PCOS.
2. Insulin Resistance
Approximately 70 percent of all PCOS women have insulin resistance. Insulin is a hormone that the pancreas produces to help the body use glucose from food for energy. Insulin resistance is when the cells of your muscles, liver, and other parts of the body don’t respond well to insulin. These cells are unable to take glucose from the bloodstream.
When that happens, your blood sugar level rises, and the pancreas continues making more insulin to help these cells take in glucose. The high insulin levels contribute to the increased production of androgen. High levels of androgen hormone in a female body block or prevent the ovaries from releasing an egg during the menstrual cycle.
Symptoms of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)
PCOS is a syndrome, which means that there are a lot of different possible symptoms, but not all women will have the same signs and symptoms.
1. Menstrual Irregularity
The high levels of androgen hormone prevent the ovary from releasing an egg (ovulating) on time. In most cases, the periods take more than 35 days. Most PCOS patients also receive less than nine menstrual periods in a year. Some PCOS women don’t get periods at all. If you are getting prolonged and irregular periods, you should talk to your doctor as soon as possible.
2. Heavy Bleeding
PCOS women usually have prolonged menstrual cycles. That means that their uterine lining has buildup for many days than usual. The more days your menstrual cycle has, the higher the chances of heavy bleeding.
3. Difficulty Getting Pregnant
PCOS causes irregular menstrual cycles. That makes it difficult for PCOS women to get pregnant. Apart from making it harder for you to conceive, PCOS can also cause miscarriages. PCOS women are three times more likely to have a miscarriage. If you have tried getting pregnant for several months with no success or have been experiencing miscarriages, you should talk to your doctor to rule out the cause.
One of the main features of PCOS is higher levels of androgen hormones. Higher than normal levels of this hormone cause hirsutism. The hormone stimulates hair follicles to grow to a degree higher than usual. That causes the vellus hair on a woman’s face to grow to terminal hairs that are thicker and darker. Approximately 7 in 10 PCOS women experience excess hair growth on their face, chest, back, and buttocks.
5. Oily Skin and Acne
The body depends on signals from the pituitary gland to know how many sex hormones to produce. PCOS disrupts the signals from the pituitary gland. It causes higher production of androgen that causes oily skin and acne.
Treating Polycystic Ovary Syndrome
There is no single treatment for PCOS. Your doctor will recommend or come up with a treatment plan to address symptoms like irregular periods, fertility problems, and excessive hair growth.
Having PCOS does not mean that you will never have a child. In some cases, your doctor will work on a treatment plan that might help you conceive. Your treatment plan will also depend on your symptoms and risk of heart disease and diabetes.
How to Improve PCOS Symptoms at Home
Apart from medication, there are simple steps that you can take to improve your symptoms at home. Losing weight and adopting a healthy diet can help improve symptoms of PCOS. Losing weight and adopting a healthy diet can help improve how your body uses insulin. Weight loss can also make your menstrual periods more regular and improve your chances of conceiving.