Managing PCOS, a syndrome on the increase

Posted on 6 January 2017

Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) is becoming more common in South Africa and globally, affecting as many as one in 10 women. Women are experiencing irregular periods, sub-fertility and miscarriage, excess facial hair and fatigue, weight gain and abdominal pain – to name a few PCOS symptoms.

According to Mediclinic Secunda gynaecologist Dr Sibusiso Nhlapo, it’s prevalent in South Africa because of sedentary lifestyles and the rising incidence of obesity. Although it’s not a disease, it’s a sign of hormonal imbalance and has become a complex condition to treat because it’s affected by psychology, diet and personal history. Doctors are still not sure of the exact root cause of PCOS.

Who is at risk?

Women of childbearing age. Dr Nhlapo says the condition can be misdiagnosed because it is often familial and is regarded as a norm for people in that family to experience those symptoms and then not deemed a medical concern. ‘A common misconception is that PCOS starts at childbearing age but it is now thought to start in utero,’ Dr Nhlapo says.

US gynaecologist Dr Christiane Northrup says in her book Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom that it is strongly linked to excess body fat and high levels of androgens (male hormones) which may be increased further by excess fat. Lots of tiny cysts develop on the ovary, disrupting their function to produce eggs for fertilisation and prepare the lining of the womb for pregnancy.

Trying to fall pregnant? 

PCOS is a leading cause of infertility, and the majority of women are unaware that they have PCOS until they start trying to conceive. The good news is symptoms can be managed and women with PCOS can conceive with medication to induce ovulation. ‘Anovulation is the main reason why they struggle to fall pregnant,’ emphasises Dr Nhlapo.

Treatment options

Doctors may recommend the contraceptive pill to reset the menstrual cycle and curb facial hair growth or acne. Alternatively, they may prescribe medication to block male hormones, or regulate insulin production.

‘Diet and exercise play a significant role because weight loss can help women to ovulate and have normal periods, and it can also reduce other complications associated with PCOS like diabetes, hypertension and heart disease,’ says Dr Nhlapo.

Lifestyle strategies

  • Exercise regularly – experts recommend 20-30 minutes daily.
  • Keep blood sugar levels stable by eating small meals five to six times a day.
  • Snack on protein instead of carbs. Experts recommend women with PCOS eat a diet comprising of 40% lean protein, 30% vegetable and 30% (or less) complex carbs.
  • Eat less sugar which aggravates hormone imbalances.
  • Drink filtered water rather than fruit juice or sugary drinks.
  • Avoid cooking food in plastic containers or wrap as this can upset hormone balance.
  • Manage stress which may be a contributing factor.
Published in Conditions

In the interest of our patients, in accordance with SA law and our commitment to expertise, Mediclinic cannot subscribe to the practice of online diagnosis. Please consult a medical professional for specific medical advice. If you have any major concerns, please see your doctor for an assessment. If you have any cause for concern, your GP will be able to direct you to the appropriate specialists.

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