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PCOS: Understanding it; its impact on women’s health

CEBU CITY, Philippines — Approximately one in every 10 women worldwide experiences one of the most common reproductive health issues among women, the polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).

It is a common hormonal condition that affects women of reproductive age which commonly causes hormonal imbalances, irregular periods, and hampers ovulation necessary for pregnancy.

Lilian, 23, is one of the many women who have been battling PCOS since her teenage years.

READ: 7 things we can do to help women with PCOS

“I got my first period when I was 14, then after ato eight months ko wala na giregla. Then na normal sya for three months then nawala na pud,” Lilian shared.

(I got my first period when I was 14, then after that eight months I had no period. Then it became normal for three months then I did not have it again.)

When she went to a doctor to consult about her menstrual problem, Lilian was reassured by the doctor at that time that it was just normal due to her young age.

However, as she grew older, her irregular periods continued. When she reached her twenties, the irregularity in her periods became increasingly concerning.

By then, Lilian was diagnosed with PCOS.

READ: Understanding PCOS and what it does to the body

“Ang symptom nga akong nabantayan physically kay excessive hair growth or hirsutism… noticeable jud akong mustache and everytime naay mupoint ana kay mauwaw jud ko and it really ruined my self-esteem,” she said.

(One symptom that I noticed physically is the excessive hair growth or hirsutism…the mustache is really noticeable and I am so ashamed when someone would point this out to me, and it really ruined my self-esteem.)

Lilian shared that it was very difficult to experience such problem as her insecurities and pressure of her physical appearance.

Furthermore, she also admitted how frustrating it was for her to experience mood swings and irritability that she could not explain.

READ: PCOS is the most common cause of female infertility. Here’s how we can fight it

She shared how she felt guilty for not being able to control her emotions at times due to PCOS.

“I usually got comments from people nga akong masugatan nga ‘ningdaku ka day’, ‘tamboka na nimo oy’ and uban pa about sa akong weight. Another symptom pud is akong acne nga ningsugod na jud sya kay wala pa jud ni sya sa una…,” Lilian shared.

(I usually got comments from people that I meet that ‘you have grown bigger’,’ you have grown fatter’ and others about the weight. Another symptom also is my acne that have started to break out because I did not have this before…)

Several women, like Lilian, have been experiencing symptoms of PCOS and may feel scared to go outside due to noticeable changes in their physical bodies.

But what exactly is PCOS?

The World Health Organization (WHO) released data that approximately 116 million women (3.4%) are affected by Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) globally.

In the Philippines, data suggested that an estimated 4.5 million Filipina patients of reproductive age have been diagnosed with the condition.

In an interview with CDN Digital, Dr. Mary Dianne Chua-Ocampo, an obstetrician-gynecologist specialist from Ace Medical Center, shed light on the complexities of PCOS.

PCOS, excessive amounts of male sex hormones

Dr. Chua-Ocampo began by defining PCOS as a hormonal imbalance where the ovaries produce excessive amounts of androgen (male sex hormone) which is usually present in small amount among women.

She said that PCOS described the presence of “numerous” (more than 12) fluid filled sacs within the ovaries.

Moreover, Dr. Chua-Ocampo acknowledged that the main cause of PCOS is “unknown”.

However, she noted most women with PCOS have insulin resistance which means that there will be an increased amount of insulin in the body, thus causing higher androgen levels too.

“Obesity may also contribute to insulin level,” the doctor added.

Further, Dr. Chua-Ocampo highlighted the role of genetics.

“Genetic (Kaliwat) may also a play a role in PCOS. You are more likely to have PCOS if your sister or mother has it,” she said.

Irregular menstrual cycles

Regarding symptoms, Dr. Chua-Ocampo said that irregular menstrual cycles, including missed periods and abnormal uterine bleeding, would often serve as early warning signs.

She also noted the presence of acne and excessive hair growth.

“Acne or excessive hair growth in the face, upper lip, chest, stomach kay usa sad sa mga (because that is one of the) symptoms because this signals nga (that) there could be an ‘excessive’ androgen levels,” Dr. Chua-Ocampo explained.

She added that weight gain and infertility also feature prominently among the list of symptoms experienced by individuals with PCOS.

No definite treatment for PCOS

Dr. Chua-Ocampo emphasized that there is currently no definite treatment for PCOS.

However, she suggested a number of methods meant to reduce symptoms and enhance living conditions.

“First line of treatment ani would be lifestyle change. Meaning, have diet and exercise. Less fatty/oily food and more physical activities like Zumba or any similar activity,” Dr. Chua-Ocampo said.

For individuals not planning pregnancy, “birth control pills” were suggested to regulate menstrual cycles.

Additionally, medications such as Metformin, typically used to manage diabetes, were prescribed to address insulin resistance in PCOS.

For those desiring pregnancy, drugs to induce ovulation are said to be available under medical supervision.

Addressing misconceptions surrounding PCOS, Dr. Chua-Ocampo corrected common misconceptions that frequently fuel stigma and ignorance.

Fertility remains “attainable”

She clarified that while PCOS might pose challenges to conception due to irregular ovulation, fertility remains “attainable” through appropriate medical intervention.

“Though PCOS may hinder ovulation, taking drugs for ovulation and weight loss can restore ovulation, thus you can get pregnant,” Dr. Chua-Ocampo said.

She also addressed the idea that treating ovarian cysts linked to PCOS would require surgery, highlighting the fact that these cysts would usually not be big enough to need surgery.

Moreover, she refuted the misconception that PCOS exclusively afflicts obese individuals.

“PCOS is not only for those who are obese. Data shows that 20 percent of women with PCOS are thin,” Dr. Chua-Ocampo remarked.

Not all irregular periods are PCOS

She also emphasized how crucial it would be to understand that not all irregular menstrual periods would be caused by PCOS, as there would be other underlying health conditions that could be involved, such as “thyroid” issues and “excessive exercise.”

Developing an awareness of PCOS not only creates a community of support for individuals living with this unfortunately growing condition, but also helps them to better manage their health and deal with its associated challenges with hope and courage.

TAGS: health, life, Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
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