Seventeen-year-old Priya has been struggling with erratic periods ever since she started menstruating. Sometimes she gets her monthlies just twice a year. At 70 kgs she is also finding it harder to shed the flab in comparison to her classmates.
Her parents get even more worried when she develops unsightly facial and chest hair and take her to a gynaecologist. Here they are told that she is suffering from Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) – a condition akin to diabetes, which can only be controlled but not cured.
Apparently, Priya is not alone in her struggle with PCOS. Studies say that this condition occurs in 5 to 10 per cent of all women of reproductive age worldwide, and it is even more prevalent in Asian women – 30 to 40 per cent. Further, the number of PCOS victims globally is rising by the hour as our unhealthy life styles aggravate its symptoms.
So, what is Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome? Dr Sunita Verma, senior gynaecologist and obstetrician, Max Hospital, Shalimar Bagh says, “We identify this condition with abnormal cysts (small sac like structures) containing fluid in a woman’s ovaries. Further, it is marked by visible obesity, acne and excessive facial hair, also called hirsutism. Maximum numbers of patients of irregular menstruation in my OPD – teenagers and adults - are PCOS victims.”
She further explains, “A woman’s body produces large quantities of female hormones as well as little amount of male hormone Testosterone. But some women are genetically predisposed to produce slightly more Testosterone whom we call patients of Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome. Now when you are also obese, the body uses fat tissue to convert female hormones into more Testosterone, and here starts the problem. You can’t ovulate, have menses and develop features like facial hair. This is why PCOS is called a lifestyle problem.”
Tragically, the consequences of PCOS do not end at that. The first problem that a PCOS-affected girl faces, after stepping into adulthood, is infertility. Dr Anubha Singh, Infertility Specialist at Artemis Health Institute, says, “So many of my IVF patients are PCOS victims. Even if they are able to conceive, raise a family, PCOS stalks them with problems like diabetes, high blood pressure, cardiovascular problems and significantly uterine cancer. All this is thanks to the PCOS and obesity induced deranged hormones.”
“What saddens me most,” she adds, “Is the condition of teenage girls suffering from self-image problems due to PCOS. They run from one doctor to another trying to cure their facial hair, acne etc. not realising that the root of the problem is the fat. You have to cut down on junk food, eat healthy and start exercising besides the hormone balancing medicines your doctors give. There are no shortcuts in PCOS. It requires long-term lifestyle investments.”