Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a common condition that affects how a woman’s ovaries work. Its three main features are:
Polycystic ovaries contain a large number of harmless follicles that are underdeveloped sacs in which eggs develop. In PCOS, these sacs are often unable to release an egg which means ovulation does not take place.
Between 5% and 10% of women who are of childbearing age, so roughly 15 to 44, have polycystic ovary syndrome. Most women find out they have PCOS in their teenage years, due to constant acne, or in their 20s and 30s when they have problems getting pregnant. But PCOS can happen at any age after puberty.
Hormonal imbalance is at the heart of the condition as your body depends on signals from your pituitary gland to produce the correct amounts of estrogen, progesterone and testosterone. PCOS disrupts these signals and lowers your estrogen and progesterone levels, while your testosterone levels increase.
The cause of PCOS is in part determined by your genes, as a study from the University of Alabama shows; here it was found that 24% of women with PCOS had a mother with it also, and 32% had a sister with the condition.
There is no single PCOS gene, however, and a wide variety of genes and mechanisms appear to be in play here. A result of this is a wide range of symptoms for different women who may develop these at varying stages in their life. According to several studies, genes which affect hormone levels and insulin resistance are related to the condition.
Your skin can suffer as a result of PCOS with several symptoms, including oily skin, acne, skin tags and dark velvety skin patches known as acanthosis nigricans. Unfortunately, nearly 30% of women with PCOS will suffer from acne.
To combat such problems, a combination of diet and exercise are advisable as your body may be lacking in the correct nutrients and will benefit from moving more. This can involve learning to better manage cravings to reduce the impact that insulin has on your skin.
Investing in skincare is also a surefire way to reduce pesky blemishes, though as PCOS-related acne is more chronic in nature it often needs more substantial treatments than regular hormonal acne. Acne fighters such as glycolic acid, salicylic acid, vitamin A and benzoyl peroxide are excellent solutions to the problem and a very definite option.
HSSC has formulated a specific acne skincare programme, Clear Skin, products that will reduce oil, blocked pores, spots, and inflamed skin and help repair damaged skin and fight acne.
Up to 10 per cent of women are affected by hirsutism, a term to describe excessive facial and body hair growth. Around 90 per cent of cases are either related to PCOS or have no known cause. Despite being so common, it can be distressing to grow dark hair in places where hair growth is more typically associated with men.
IPL is a tried and tested way to combat unwanted hair as a result of PCOS with long-lasting results.
As PCOS makes it more difficult for the body to use insulin, due to the condition of insulin resistance, it can lead to a build up of insulin and sugar in the bloodstream. High insulin levels leads to the increased production of male hormones called androgens, which in turn leads to symptoms such as body hair and acne, as well as weight gain.
Since the weight gain is triggered by male hormones it is typically in the abdomen area as that is where men tend to carry weight. Again, diet and exercise is recommended as the best way to combat this symptom of PCOS.
The hormonal fluctuations that women with PCOS experience are likely to bring about mood swings or emotional instability, which can also be symptoms of depression. Furthermore, there are psychological and social implications of the condition which can be managed to deal with the disorder in wider ranging ways.
Exercise and diet modification is the first line of treatment for PCOS, as even a 5-10% reduction in weight can create positive changes to the metabolic, psychological and reproductive symptoms.
Exercise is critical since it increases the body’s efficiency when it comes to digesting glucose, increases the sensitivity of cells to insulin and reduces hyperandrogenism, where the body creates more androgens.
Poor body image issues and negative self-esteem are also associated symptoms of PCOS which makes it more than just a physical disorder. In studies, women with PCOS report a negative perception of their body image, with dissatisfaction over appearance, perceived loss of femininity and feeling less sexually attractive.
Low self esteem is generally associated with anxiety, depression and increased reports of general psychiatric symptoms. This can lead to the need for psychological support which can often be obtained through a diagnosis from a GP.
Researchers have tried to find a correlation between differences in hormone levels in PCOS and an increased risk for anxiety and depression with mixed results. People with PCOS who have anxiety may have lower levels of certain neurotransmitters like serotonin, a chemical messenger associated with positive feelings.
Taking omega-3 fatty acid from fish oil alone, or in combination with Vitamin D, may decrease symptoms of depression and anxiety in people with PCOS. Otherwise medication usually prescribed for anxiety may be another option.
Skincare is of paramount importance, and a good routine is essential, depending on the severity of the disorder, your routine and products can be discussed with an aesthetic practitioner or doctor. AHA’s, benzoyl peroxide and vitamin A will help to empty clogged pores, reduce bacteria and build-up of dead skin cells, all of which lead to spots, red sore and uncomfortable skin.
Chemical skin peels are an excellent way of stripping away oily and clogged skin and can improve the skin’s appearance, though again this will only work for issues on the surface. Chemical peels, which come in a variety of strengths can help with mild scarring and discolouration.
Co2 laser work very well for more severe scarring, a course of treatment is usually required with 3-6 treatments, around 6-10 weeks apart.
Photodynamic therapy (PDT) is a more dynamic treatment which can remedy more severe blemishes as a result of PCOS by reducing bacteria and calming inflammation leading to reduced redness .
IPL (intense pulsed light) is a fantastic treatment to help get rid of unwanted hair growth.
Meanwhile the contraceptive pill may be recommended to induce regular periods