Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) is a complex condition affecting the hormonal, metabolic and reproductive system of women. It affects approximately 21% of women of reproductive age in Australia and is the leading cause of infertility.
Women will often start to notice signs and symptoms in their late teens to early 20s. Symptoms differ from person to person in both severity and complexity. Common signs and symptoms include irregular menstrual cycle, excessive hair growth usually on the face, back, chest and abdomen, male-pattern baldness and hair thinning, overweight or obesity, acne or oily skin, fertility problems and high blood pressure.
The exact cause of PCOS is unknown however we understand that hormone imbalances and abnormalities play a large role. These hormonal imbalances include insulin resistance and an increased production of male hormones (androgens) within the ovaries.
Insulin resistance can cause the ovaries to produce excessive levels of testosterone, more than what is required within the female body for normal function. An increase in testosterone disrupts the normal production and cycle of female hormones causing many short and long-term health complications.
Due to the metabolic, hormonal and reproductive disturbances PCOS has on the body, there are many serious complications that can follow:
1.Type 2 Diabetes: Due to the increased insulin resistance women with PCOS may experience, there is an associated risk of developing T2D, especially with age. T2D develops when there is an excessive amount of glucose found within the blood, because Insulin cannot perform its job properly. Insulin is in charge of bringing glucose from the bloodstream to the cells to be used for energy. When the body becomes resistant to Insulin, blood glucose levels increase, causing many health problems such as heart disease, overweight, blindness, neuropathy and kidney disease.
2.High Cholesterol: An increase in testosterone found within the body can cause an increase in LDL cholesterol ( ‘bad’ type). Women with PCOS may also have a lower level of HDL cholesterol (‘good’ type) and higher levels of triglycerides. Higher counts of LDLs increase the risk of developing heart disease, stroke and heart attacks.
3.Endometrial Cancer: Those with PCOS have a higher chance of developing endometrial cancer.
4.Metabolic Syndrome: This is a group of risk factors that increase the risk of stroke, heart disease and heart attack. These risk factors include high amounts of abdominal fat, increased blood pressure, insulin resistance, and high cholesterol.
5.Infertility and cysts found within the uterus: Due to disruption of reproductive hormones, normal cysts may fail to develop and release as normal reproductive eggs. This increases the chance of infertility because the egg fails to develop and mature.
Exercise and a healthy lifestyle can be extremely helpful for managing the symptoms and complications of PCOS. Firstly, exercise helps the body to become more sensitive to Insulin, which reduces the risk of developing Diabetes and the risk factors involved. An improvement in insulin sensitivity may also have a positive impact on the amount of testosterone the female body creates, reducing many negative health complications within the reproductive system.
Strength training and building muscle is a great way to improve the metabolic system, reducing the risk of developing metabolic syndrome and the risk factors associated (high blood pressure, weight problems, cholesterol levels, insulin resistance).
It is important that you find something you enjoy, that way you are more likely to stick to it! Aim to exercise for 30 minutes per day and increase intensity and time slowly and progressively.
Speak to your GP about how exercise can assist and whether a referral to an Exercise Physiologist is required.