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Health & Wellbeing / Claire Blackmore

#TabooTuesday: Everything You NTK About Polycystic Ovaries

Polycystic ovaries can affect any woman at any time, usually during their late teens and early twenties. Not all symptoms are the same however and many women only discover they have PCOS when they’re trying to get pregnant – unfortunately PCOS is one of the most common causes of female infertility.

Today, Dr. Tatiana Lapa tells us the NTKs of PCOS…

What are polycystic ovaries?

“Ovaries produce several tiny eggs every month, usually one or two will be ‘selected’ to grow and be released. In people who have polycystic ovaries – there is no ‘selection’ process and all the tiny eggs grow forming multiple big cysts on the ovaries. An egg is not released every month and therefore women can have fertility problems and infrequent periods. Although the exact cause is unknown, we do know that there is often a family link, that hormones are imbalanced and that there is often a higher risk of other health problems such as obesity, heart disease and diabetes.”

When can you develop polycystic ovaries?

“Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) is most commonly identified in women of reproductive age in their late teens or 20s. However, PCOS can be related to other factors such as being overweight and certain medication. For example, gaining weight in later life can mean that you only develop the symptoms of PCOS much later.”

What are telltale signs of polycystic ovaries?

“We estimate that around 1 in 3 women have polycystic ovaries, but only a third of these will have any symptoms. Tell-tale signs that should prompt you to see your doctor include: irregular periods, fertility problems, excessive hair or male-pattern balding, acne and obesity. Your doctor will use the following checklist to decide if you have the syndrome: excessive hair growth OR high male hormone levels in the blood WITH EITHER reduced periods OR evidence of multiple cysts on the ovaries.”

Are there any checks I could/should be doing?

“If you are having regular periods without any problems like excessive hair, acne, male-pattern hair loss, obesity or diabetes, then you should just take advantage of having a sexual health infection screen and smear test with your GP. However, if you are experiencing symptoms or have a family history of PCOS – it’s a good idea to speak to your GP to check if you need any investigations and get advice on how to prevent PCOS developing.”

Is PCOS a lifelong problem?

“Polycystic ovaries and Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) are two different things. A woman can have multiple cysts on her ovaries but not have any of the other features of the syndrome such as acne, excessive hair, infrequent periods, fertility problems or obesity. PCOS is not necessarily a lifelong problem. Losing weight if you are overweight can be incredibly helpful in reversing your diagnosis. If you are not overweight, adopting a healthy balanced diet which is low in estrogens such as soy bean can be helpful in normalizing your hormonal balance.”

What lifestyle changes should I make?

“Be aware of your lifestyle habits – try and make sure you eat a healthy balanced diet, get 6-8 hours of sleep every night, manage your stress levels, don’t smoke, limit your alcohol intake, and try to exercise for at least 20/30 mins 3-4 times a week.”

Is PCOS linked to being on the contraception pill?

“There is no evidence that either of the contraceptive pills (combined or progesterone-only) is linked with polycystic ovaries. In fact, a contraceptive pill may be offered to you to regulate your periods and balance your hormones better (stopping unopposed estrogen).”

How can PCOS be managed?

“In reality PCOS does not always require any treatment. The symptoms of PCOS, such as irregular periods, acne, excessive hair, can be managed with medication; fertility problems can be treated with medication or sometimes surgery; and associated conditions like diabetes or high blood pressure can be screened for and treated if necessary. I would advise that you focus on maintaining a healthy lifestyle and only treat symptoms if they are problematic for you. Also speak to your GP, in some circumstances they may recommend that you have a blood pressure and diabetes screen once a year.”

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