An imbalance in the sex hormones in females leads to a condition called Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome. The exact cause is unknown, but there is a genetic component. Women who have family members with the condition have an increased risk of getting PCOS.
Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome is one of the most commonly seen hormonal disorders in women of childbearing age.
Many fluid-filled sacs called cysts form within the ovaries of women with PCOS. This syndrome is linked to difficulty in getting pregnant. When a woman has PCOS, the ovaries produce greater quantities of male sex hormones called androgens. Therefore, in addition to infertility, other symptoms of PCOS include breakouts of acne and excessive facial hair.
How is Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome diagnosed?
A physician listens to your medical history. A physical exam can reveal telltale signs of PCOS such as facial hair. A woman’s weight (body mass index), blood pressure, and blood sugar levels help a physician diagnose PCOS. The definitive test for PCOS is a pelvic ultrasound examination. This is a noninvasive imaging study that can help rule out other conditions.
What are the most common symptoms of Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome?
Weight gain and difficulty losing weight. Acne, excessive face and body hair that is thick and dark, and thinning of scalp hair. Women with PCOS have irregular menstrual periods. They may sometimes miss a monthly cycle and at other times have heavy bleeding. Women with this condition find it difficult to get pregnant. They may also suffer from depression.
Does obesity cause Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome or vice versa?
What is known for sure is that obesity and PCOS are linked to each other. In some women, obesity occurs first and PCOS develops later. In other women, PCOS causes weight gain and the inability to lose weight.
What is it so difficult to lose weight with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome?
Many women who have been diagnosed with PCOS find it exceedingly difficult to lose weight. This struggle with weight loss is related to the higher levels of male hormones in their blood as well as insulin resistance. Insulin is the hormone that regulates blood sugar levels in the blood. When a woman becomes resistant to insulin, her body stops responding to the hormone. This decreased sensitivity to insulin results in obesity. PCOS makes it difficult for the woman’s body to use insulin effectively.
How does insulin resistance lead to weight gain?
Insulin works by lowering blood sugar levels. It converts sugars and starches to energy. With PCOS, the sugars and starches that are consumed by women get stored in the body as fat. High insulin levels also lead to high male hormone levels in the blood. This will lead to the symptoms commonly associated with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome – acne, facial hair, irregular menstruation, and weight gain.
What type of weight gain occurs with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome?
Because the weight gain that is associated with polycystic ovarian syndrome is triggered by male hormones, the obesity is of a male pattern. Therefore, women with PCOS tend to have an apple shape, rather than a pear shape. The weight gain that occurs with this condition is mostly centered around the abdomen, which is typically seen in men. Abdominal fat has been linked to many life-threatening conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, and sleep apnea.
What are the risks of PCOS-related weight gain?
Being overweight is detrimental to a woman’s overall health. Insulin resistance and PCOS are associated with diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and sleep apnea. All these conditions lead to an increased risk of heart disease. In fact, women with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome have a higher risk of suffering from a heart attack.
In addition to infertility, PCOS is also linked to endometrial cancer. Being overweight also increases the risk of other PCOS symptoms like acne and menstrual abnormalities.
How will weight loss help?
Losing weight can improve a woman’s insulin sensitivity. Insulin can begin to do its work again. This will lead to a decreased risk of heart disease, diabetes, and other complications of PCOS. Losing weight will also help improve looks and confidence. Reducing weight by just 10% can help correct menstrual irregularities. Therefore, weight loss can relieve many of the symptoms commonly associated with PCOS. Losing just 10 lbs of weight can bring back hormonal balance and menstrual regularity.
How to lose weight with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome?
It is a good idea to have a healthcare provider evaluate your body mass index (BMI). This is a ratio of your height and weight. In addition to your waist size, it gives an indication of the severity of obesity. In combination with a healthy diet and regular exercise, the doctor may prescribe medication to help with PCOS symptoms and weight loss.
What medications are used to treat PCOS?
Birth control pills containing female sex hormones are a treatment for polycystic ovaries. Pills containing anti-androgen substances may also be prescribed to block the effect of male hormones. A prescription drug called metformin improves insulin utilization and blocks testosterone. Metformin can help women with PCOS lose weight. Anti-androgen drugs may be prescribed alone or in combination with metformin. Other drugs that help the body utilize insulin more effectively are also available.
What are other ways to lose weight with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome?
A healthy diet that is rich in fiber and low in sugar can help women with PCOS lose weight. Eating lots of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains will be helpful. Avoiding fatty fried foods or highly processed foods will also help with weight loss. Women with PCOS may need to consult a nutritionist or a dietitian to guide them on healthy food choices. To keep blood sugar levels in control, it is a good idea to eat smaller and more frequent meals. Six small meals instead of three big ones will help with weight loss. At least 30 minutes of exercise on a daily basis is needed to lose weight. Quitting smoking can also help with weight loss, as smoking is associated with high androgen levels. Blood pressure and blood cholesterol levels should be closely monitored by a physician.
It is possible for women with PCOS to lose weight with a combination of healthy eating, moderate exercise, and prescription medications like metformin. A healthy weight will go a long way in controlling all PCOS symptoms. A modest weight loss of 5-7% is associated with restoration of ovulation and fertility in the majority of women.