Karen’s story may sound familiar to some readers and many must think it is not a big deal to have an irregular period. However, it can be a huge deal.
Karen went to see a gynecologist when she had irregular spotting. Her gynecologist told her she had polycystic ovarian syndrome.
Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) is the most common condition associated with chronic anovulation, affecting between four to six percent of young women. Normally one or more eggs are released every month. In PCOS, fully grown eggs are not released but form small cysts in the ovaries, which lead to irregular periods. As the male sex hormone increases in some women with PCOS, they may develop male-like characteristics such as acne, hair on the chest, belly and face, and hair loss on the head.
You are probably thinking “So I have irregular periods, acne, and a lot of hair. What is it going to do to me?”
In fact, women with polycystic ovarian syndrome are at increased risk of endometrial cancer, obesity, diabetes mellitus, dyslipidemia, hypertension and cardiovascular disease.
The risk of developing endometrial cancer (cancer in the lining of uterus) may be increased three-fold in women with PCOS. If you skip periods for a long time, you are exposed to prolonged estrogen retention. Estrogen constantly stimulates the lining of uterus, predisposing abnormal growth. For women who do not have plans for conception, hormone contraceptives protect against endometrial cancer and help the restoration of a regular menstrual cycle.
The strong association between obesity, sex hormone imbalance, diabetes mellitus, and menstrual abnormalities emphasizes the importance of life style modification in women with PCOS. At least half of women with PCOS are obese and obesity aggravates metabolic disorders. Eventually 10 percent of women with PCOS develop diabetes mellitus by the age of 40, which is three- to seven-fold increased risk compared to women without PCOS. Dyslipidemia is the most common metabolic abnormality observed in nearly 70 percent of women with PCOS.
The first best treatment for obese PCOS women is weight loss. Even a small reduction in weight, between two to five percent, can produce improvements in metabolic and reproductive function. For a 150-pound woman, it is just seven pounds. Weight reduction helps restoration of the sex hormone balance which decreases acne and body hair. It also improves ovulation, thereby increasing pregnancy rates with less miscarriage chance. By losing weight, you get prettier and more reproductive.
Many women consult their doctors on what kind of food is good for a diet. The huge diet industry presents various attractive diet secrets including protein only, low fat, lemon detox, and many more. Medically speaking, low caloric intake is more important than the specific composition of the diet. Focus on eating less rather than contemplate over the selection of diet.
Not all women with PCOS are obese and need weight reduction, but thin women with PCOS are also at higher risk of metabolic diseases compared to women without PCOS. Therefore, all women with PCOS should be screened for diabetes, blood pressure, waist circumference, and lipid profile.
Take notice of irregular periods. It can be the signal of a potential health risk.