Health Insights

What Is PCOS?

PCOS or Polycystic ovarian syndrome is a chronic condition that affects one in every five women in India. But what is PCOS? Read on to find more!

If you’ve ever been a part of a conversation surrounding polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), you must’ve realised it is pretty common. You might’ve even heard your friend or a cousin make a passing statement about irregular periods, acne or facial hair. Has that ever made you wonder what PCOS really is? What causes it? And above all, if there is a cure for PCOS? If yes, then you’re not alone.

In India itself, one in every five women are diagnosed with PCOS. Often misdiagnosed and poorly understood by research, PCOS is a hormonal disorder that affects women throughout their reproductive lives.

What does PCOS mean?

PCOS is a syndrome, which means it presents itself as a complex set of symptoms associated with hormonal imbalance, affecting reproductive and metabolic health.

However, if you’re familiar with PCOS, you might’ve also come across people who interchangeably call it PCOD. PCOS was previously called polycystic ovarian disease (PCOD). The truth is, PCOD is nothing but an outdated term that is no longer used by medical professionals — as PCOS is not a ‘disease’ but rather a syndrome.

How does PCOS affect your body?

Although the exact cause of PCOS is still unknown – genetics, excess insulin and lifestyle factors can increase the risk of developing PCOS.

According to the Rotterdam criteria, diagnosis of PCOS requires at least two of these three findings:

1. Hyperandrogenism: Androgens are male hormones that are also naturally produced by females in small quantities. In PCOS however, higher than normal levels of androgens may be present (hyperandrogenism), which can interfere with the normal functioning of ovulation (egg release) and lead to hirsutism (excess facial and body hair), acne and hair loss on the scalp.

2. Oligomenorrhea: infrequent or irregular menstrual periods – cycles of more than 35 days or having fewer than 9 menstruations in a year.

3. Polycystic ovaries: polycystic ovaries are defined as ovaries that contain 20 or more follicles (the small sacs that an egg grows in) in each ovary. These follicles can measure anywhere between 2 to 9mm in diameter.

However, the symptoms of PCOS do not present themselves in the same way for every woman. For example, some women may not get periods for months together, while others may have multiple cycles in a single month. Although research is still not conclusive, the cause of PCOS is a combination of hormonal imbalance, lifestyle factors and genetics.

There is no complete cure for PCOS but many of the symptoms can be managed with lifestyle modifications and medications — and making lifestyle changes is often the first line of treatment. It is important to remember that each woman will have a different set of symptoms so the treatment pathways will vary. If you have any of the above symptoms, it is advised to get a formal diagnosis done by a medical professional.

Reviewed by

Dr. Iris Lee

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