Image: Jessica Rowe is an outspoken PCOS sufferer.
Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) is anything but glamorous. Ovarian cysts, insulin resistance, facial hair, potential infertility …they’re not exactly words women everywhere are dying to hear.
Despite celebrities like Jessica Rowe, Victoria Beckham, and Emma Thompson going public with how the syndrome has affected their lives, PCOS is still not widely understood. It’s not sexy to think about, and the long-term consequences are hard to comprehend. But 1 in 10 women have this condition, often unknowingly.
So why the hell aren’t we all talking about it more?
We turned to Holistic Nutritionist, Dietician, Personal Trainer and Lifestyle Coach Kate Callaghan, and Sydney Endocrinologist Dr Katherine Benson for some answers. (Watch: Five things about PCOS with Mamamia TV. Post continues after video.)
What is PCOS?
“Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome is one of the most common hormonal problems faced by women, and is a key player in many cases of infertility,” Callaghan says.
Dr Benson explains the syndrome is characterised by hormone imbalances: “Androgen (male hormone) and insulin levels are typically elevated in women with PCOS. This hormonal imbalance can cause women to have irregular or absent periods, problems with fertility, acne, excessive facial hair and hair thinning. “
What are the symptoms?
While only a doctor can give a confirmed diagnosis, there are a few common symptoms both Callaghan and Dr Benson agree you should look out for. “These usually begin around the time of adolescence, although some women do not develop symptoms until late adolescence or early adulthood,” Dr Benson says. They are:
• Absent or irregular periods
• Increased body hair growth (often in less-than-desirable places, including the upper lip, chin, breasts and back).
• Alopecia- Hair loss from the scalp
• Difficulty falling pregnant
• Difficulty losing weight
How do I get it diagnosed?
Unfortunately, there is no one test to determine whether you have PCOS. In Callaghan’s experience: “PCOS is often a diagnosis of exclusion, which means all other causes of menstrual irregularities must be first ruled out, such as pregnancy or thyroid conditions”.
Dr Benson explains that PCOS is generally diagnosed when two of the following three features are present : 1) evidence of elevated androgen levels, 2) menstrual irregularities, and/or 3) the appearance of polycystic ovaries on a pelvic ultrasound. She agrees with Callaghan that a number of other conditions need to be excluded first.