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Polcystic ovarian syndrome is a treatable condition
DO YOU sometimes go months at a time without having a period only to fear that you're bleeding to death once it finally starts? Are you doing all the right things to lose weight, but the weight just won't come off--in fact, you're gaining weight?
Have you noticed hair growth in places where women just aren't supposed to have hair? Have you had trouble getting pregnant?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, you may have polycystic ovarian syndrome.
PCOS is a common condition affecting approximately 5 percent of all pre-menopausal women. Although the exact cause of PCOS is not fully understood, insulin resistance and over-secretion of androgens (male hormones) are important factors.
When we eat carbohydrates, our pancreas secretes a substance called insulin, which allows our cells to use the glucose in our food. Some people's cells are resistant to insulin, so the glucose isn't absorbed as well. The pancreas responds by secreting more insulin, and blood levels of this important hormone rise.
Among other things, this overabundance of insulin affects the ovaries, causing them to secrete excessive amounts of androgens--which leads to abnormal hair growth and anovulation (the failure of the ovaries to release an egg on a regular schedule). That then leads to irregular periods and infertility.
PCOS can be diagnosed by symptoms alone, but sometimes laboratory studies are necessary to make or confirm the diagnosis, and to rule out conditions that can have similar symptoms.
For an overweight woman with infrequent periods and hair on her chest, there's a good chance that PCOS is the problem. However, the diagnosis is a bit trickier in a woman of normal weight with no abnormal hair growth.
The work-up of women with suspected PCOS includes lab tests to rule out tumors, adrenal gland and pituitary problems. It's also important to commence routine screening for associated conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes and elevated cholesterol. A pelvic ultrasound also may be helpful.
Once the diagnosis is made, one of the best and longest-lasting treatments in those who are overweight is weight loss. This can be difficult because insulin promotes weight gain, but it's not impossible.
Lower-carbohydrate diets are often more effective than lower-fat diets. Also, simple sugars should be avoided; instead, opt for complex carbohydrates such as whole grains.