Updated: Sep 24
As September is Polycystic Ovary Syndrome Awareness Month, our sexual health columnist Dr. Raewyn dives into the condition and what you can do about it, if you have it.
What exactly is PCOS?
Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) is a common hormonal condition that affects approximately 6 to 21 percent of girls and women of fertile age. As doctors, we also refer to it as Metabolic Syndrome, or Syndrome X, which sounds a bit scary, but I promise you, it’s not.
PCOS is simply related to an increase in male hormones (testosterone), which causes symptoms including skin issues, weight gain, and create tiny fluid filled sacs called cysts on the ovaries. The cysts are immature follicles that didn’t grow to maturity, which is when they release an egg into the fallopian tubes. This is why PCOS can affect fertility and lead to struggles for women who are trying to conceive a baby. Again, that may sound scary, but we can help women with PCOS overcome these struggles and go on to have a happy, healthy baby when they are ready. But more on that a little later.
How Do I Know If I Have PCOS?
Sometimes, PCOS can be tricky to detect, but once we diagnose it, we can treat it quite well. There are a few symptoms and if you recognise them, I suggest you head to your doctor for a fertility specialist referral, who can run some simple tests to see if you have PCOS.
So, Symptoms to Look Out For Are:
Unexpected weight gain and difficulty losing weight and/or maintaining a healthy weight.
However, it’s important to remember that even women who are on the slender side can have PCOS. We estimate about 20 percent of women with PCOS are quite thin. This is one of the reasons the condition is often hard to detect, so it’s important to look out for other symptoms, too.
You may have irregular periods, or no periods at all. This is because the follicle hasn’t reached maturity and been able to release the egg into the fallopian tubes.
You might be experiencing hair loss. Hair loss with PCOS is related to the presence of too much of the male hormone, testosterone in your system.
Your skin might become oily and blemished, with excess hair appearing on your face or other parts of your body. Again, this is related to the male hormone, testosterone.
You might notice skin changes, such as skin tags, and pigmentation on the face and decolletage. This is related to hormones, as well as insulin resistance, which is also common in girls and women who have PCOS.
If you are trying for a baby without success and there are no other health factors at play, it may be that you have PCOS. As discussed, the egg isn’t being released by the follicle. So, without an egg, it is impossible to become pregnant.
What Should I DO If I Think I Have PCOS?
Firstly, don’t panic. Make an appointment to see your GP who can give you a referral to a fertility specialist, like myself. Your GP should be able to run specific blood tests that can detect a rise in the male hormone, testosterone, as well as conduct a pelvic scan to view the ovaries. If there are 20 or more follicles present in one ovary, it may indicate PCOS. Another factor is infrequent or no periods, which indicates lack of ovulation. When two out of these three criteria are present, a positive diagnosis is typically concluded.
If you do receive a positive diagnosis, we can talk to you at length about the lifestyle tweaks you can make to ease the symptoms, such as, diet and weight management, as well as any medication that may help the condition.
Will PCOS Make It Hard for Me To Have A Baby?
When you decide the time is right to become a mum, PCOS may make conceiving naturally a bit tricky because of the irregular or infrequent ovulation that I’ve discussed above. Don’t panic though – just because you have PCOS, it doesn’t mean you can't have a baby. In fact, the majority of women who are diagnosed with it actually do fall pregnant naturally and have beautiful, healthy, happy babies. What Can I Do to Help Ease The Condition And Better My Chances Of Becoming A Mum? If you are diagnosed with PCOS, you can see a fertility specialist. like myself, who can devise a fertility plan for you. It will include preconception care such as fertility tracking, following a healthy diet, taking preconception vitamins, taking up things like yoga and meditation to help reduce stress and regular exercise to help maintain weight and more.
For more information on overcoming PCOS, please download Dr Raewyn’s comprehensive e-book here.