3 Signs You Might Have Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS)
If you’re a Filipina, you probably know someone — or have been diagnosed yourself — with polycystic ovarian syndrome or PCOS.
According to Dr. Maynila Domingo, an obstetrician-gynecologist at ManilaMed in Ermita, Manila, “Overall, at least one in 15 women of reproductive age will be affected by PCOS, making it the most common endocrine (a.k.a. hormonal) disorder among this age group,”
PCOS’ exact cause is unknown, but it’s characterized by an imbalance in reproductive hormones. The imbalance has a symptom that have made many Filipinas head to their doctor: irregular menstruation.
Unfortunately, many women wait up to a year since their last menstruation before they consult a doctor, based on Dr. Domingo’s experience.
PCOS doesn’t just manifest as irregular menses. Those who have it may experience heavy menstrual bleeding. Dr. Doming adds, “Either wala talaga or sobrang duguin (either no bleeding or a heavy one).”
Irregular menstruation is only one of three symptoms that are common to those with PCOS. “To be able to diagnose the condition, you have to have at least two out of three,” said Dr Domingo.
- Irregular menstruation because the patient does not ovulate on a regular basis
- Excess body hair (like on the upper lip and chin) and acne due to high levels of androgen, a male sex hormone, in the body.
- Having follicular cysts, measuring at least 9mm in diameter, on one or both your ovaries. This is checked by a doctor via an ultrasound. “[The follicular cysts] hindi ito bukol,” Dr. Domingo clarified. “Ito yung characteristic ng ovary dahil may problema ang pasyente sa production ng hormones, pero hindi siya bukol per se.”
“Women of all races and ethnicities are at risk for PCOS. The risk is further increased in women who have a family history of the disease, are obese, and have diabetes,” she said.
Infertility and other health risks of PCOS
PCOS is a lifelong disease. The hormonal imbalance can extend up to the post-menopausal stage. “It will affect the woman’s life all throughout. Why is this a problem? The condition is also associated with diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol, and heart problems. They can also have a higher risk of developing cancer, which is why early diagnosis is important.”
PCOS is also related to infertility. Dr. Domingo explains, “Sa sobrang taas ng level ng androgen, yung hormone na pang-lalaki, naaapektuhan niya yung pag-produce ng babae ng egg [cell]. ‘Di ka nago-ovulate so it causes infertility.” (It is called chronic anovulation.)
PCOS causes more than 75 percent of cases of anovulatory infertility, according to Dr. Domingo. And for women with PCOS who do get pregnant, there is increased risk of miscarriages, preterm birth, gestational hypertension, and gestational diabetes.
Treatment involves fertility pills and a healthy lifestyle. Some patients sometimes disregard the latter, says the ob-gyn, but it’s just as crucial to preventing PCOS from progressing to the health problems mentioned above. “The mainstay of treatment for PCOS is lifestyle modification. Proper diet and exercise to maintain normal BMI is very crucial to achieve regulation of hormone levels.”
Dr. Eileen Manalo, an ob-gyn and reproductive endocrinologist at St. Luke’s Center for Advanced Reproductive Medicine and Infertility, says the same. PCOS is tied to insulin resistance, she explains, so weight control and physical activity are necessary. “It’s what I always advocate. There are many patients who get pregnant easily or their periods become regular after weight loss.”
There are women who don’t find out about PCOS until they are struggling to get pregnant. Don’t hesitate to consult with a doctor for any irregularities in your menstrual cycle.
“There is no cure for PCOS, but you can manage the symptoms of PCOS. You and your doctor will work on a treatment plan based on your symptoms, your plans for children, and your risk for long-term health problems such as diabetes and heart disease,” says Dr. Domingo.