How to manage PCOS: The growing disorder in women
Unexplained weight gain, missed periods and unusual facial hair growth- experienced it yourself or heard it from a friend? If yes, then you must have heard of a commonly occurring condition in women of reproductive age too, called PCOS or Polycystic Ovary Syndrome. PCOS affects one in every 10 women in India. Not just this, out of every 10 women diagnosed with the condition, six are often teenage girls. But, even today, due to lack of awareness and the right information, the condition goes unnoticed for years.
What happens when you have PCOS?
Insulin levels are frequently reported to be higher than normal in women with PCOS. It encourages the body’s cells to convert sugar (glucose) into energy. If you don’t produce enough insulin, your blood sugar levels may rise. This can also happen if you’re insulin resistant, which means you can’t use the insulin you produce effectively.
If you’re insulin resistant, your body may try to control your blood sugar levels by producing a lot of insulin. When your insulin levels are too high, your ovaries produce more androgens, such as testosterone. Insulin resistance makes losing weight difficult, which is why women with PCOS typically experience these problems.
Some facts about PCOS
According to one study conducted by the AIIMS Department of endocrinology and metabolism, about 20-25% of women in India of reproductive age are suffering from PCOS. Further, the study revealed that about 60% of women are obese, 35-50% have a fatty liver while about 70% of them are insulin resistant and 60-70% have high levels of androgen.
The cases of PCOS have risen drastically as compared to the last 10 years. PCOS if left unchecked, can lead to complications like infertility, diabetes, high BP and other such long-term health concerns.
The exact cause, though unknown, but unhealthy lifestyles, unhealthy diets, and lack of sleep with sedentary living could be some of the contributory factors for the increase in the cases of PCOS. Also if someone in your family suffers from the condition like your mother or sister, it is likely that you might be at the risk of getting it as well.
Symptoms to look out for
Let’s go through some early symptoms that are first noticed by women of reproductive age. You can often hear them say things like:
“I was unexpectedly gaining weight, even though I was not overeating or consuming junk foods. And, despite all my efforts, it seemed impossible to lose.”
“People would constantly point out the hair growth on my face, which would make me feel upset and uncomfortable all the time.”
“Well, it all started with missed periods, irregular periods that pushed me into getting myself checked.”
Weight gain, lethargy, unwanted hair growth, thinning hair, infertility, acne, pelvic pain, migraines, sleep issues, and mood swings are all signs of PCOS in girls and women. The majority of symptoms appear just after puberty, however, they can also appear in late adolescence and early adulthood as well. Girls with PCOS often have irregular periods or amenorrhea, as well as heavy or scanty menstrual flow. Doctors also search for polycystic ovaries and increased levels of the male hormone androgen (testosterone).
Long term risks
It’s also seen that if left unchecked for years, women with PCOS are more likely to develop hypertension, high cholesterol, anxiety and depression, sleep apnea, heart attack, diabetes, and endometrial, ovarian, or breast cancer. PCOS increases the risk of miscarriage, gestational diabetes, and cases of premature babies in pregnant women. That’s why it becomes highly important to look out for symptoms and signs in the body that are indicative of PCOS.
The right kind of treatment
We aren’t here to frighten you, we are here to help you lead a healthy life and manage PCOS in the best possible way. Read on to know the simple modifications you can make in your everyday life to push this condition to the backseat.
PCOS is a condition that cannot be cured completely, but the good news is that it can be managed easily by curing the symptoms that surround the condition. Exercising and eating a balanced and healthy diet can go a long way in suppressing some of the symptoms of PCOS. Instead of three large meals, go for five small meals, which aid in food metabolism and weight management. This will also help in regulating the menstrual cycle of women along with lowering blood glucose levels.
2. Say yes to fiber and protein
Foods rich in fiber can be the best bet in combating insulin resistance by slowing digestion and minimizing the effect of sugar on the blood. To start right, you can choose foods like
broccoli, cauliflower, and sprouts, red leaf lettuce, green and red peppers, beans and lentils, tomatoes, spinach, almonds and walnuts, olive oil, and fruits like blueberries and strawberries. All these foods are good and make for high fiber content. Women with PCOS should also eat lean protein sources like tofu, poultry, and fish because they are satisfying and healthy.
While many women have been advised to exercise regularly (at least 45 minutes, five times a week), they refrain from it due to lack of time. Take out some time from your busy schedules. Because PCOS is a condition that requires holistic management, from all ends of the spectrum and not just one.
Weight loss of up to 10% can aid with symptom relief, hormonal balance, and menstrual cycle regularisation. PCOS in women, particularly adolescents, is a serious public health issue that requires careful evaluation, prompt intervention, and proper treatment. Thus, the need of the hour is to promote healthy and balanced lifestyles with the emphasis on regular exercising, keeping mentally and physically fit, and also spreading awareness about PCOS among other women and young girls.
- Ramanand SJ, Ghongane BB, Ramanand JB, Patwardhan MH, Ghanghas RR, Jain SS. Clinical characteristics of polycystic ovary syndrome in Indian women. Indian J Endocrinol Metab. 2013 Jan;17(1):138-45. doi: 10.4103/2230-8210.107858. PMID: 23776867; PMCID: PMC3659881.
- Sunitha P Shekokar. Why PCOS is on the rise among Indian women. [Internet]. DailyO, India.[Updated: 2017, April 21; Cited 2021, September 18]. Available from: https://www.dailyo.in/variety/polycystic-ovary-syndrome-womens-health/story/1/16785.html