Sunday, October 1, 2023

SPECIAL: Living with polycystic ovarian syndrome

There is no cure yet for PCOS but the condition can be managed effectively via diets such as foods with high vegetable and fruit content rather than carbohydrates.

• October 3, 2021

Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) is a common hormonal disorder in women which may cause irregular periods and problems in conceiving. 

Though the condition affects 4 to 20 per cent of women reproductive age worldwide, PCOS is not yet considered an important health problem. A 2021 study observed an increase in the global PCOS incidence rate at  82.44 per 100,000 population, making an increase of 1.45 per cent recorded between 2007 and 2017.

This is because the prevalence, diagnosis, management, clinical practices, and prevention of the condition has been controversial within medical circles. In spite of multiple factors contributing to the disorder, its cause is largely unknown.

In patients diagnosed with PCOS, multiple cysts on the ovaries are noticed in an ultrasound and other symptoms that may manifest include acne, facial hair growth and hair loss.

Peoples Gazette spoke with Patricia Beshel, who was first diagnosed with the hormone disorder in 2020 after years of speculation. 

“In 2019, my period was late for a month but I was spotting on random days. I went to a hospital where they refused to let me see a gynecologist because “it was nothing serious.” After a couple of abdominal scans and an HVS (high vaginal swab) test, it was dismissed as a bacterial infection and I was loaded with antibiotics,” Ms Beshel said. 

Ms Beshel was finally diagnosed after her period stopped completely and the spotting returned. She mentioned spotting for 10 days in a row, coupled with severe abdominal pain. This continued till about July/August when she went directly to a gynecologist. 

“I was referred for a couple of hormone tests, another HVS, a lower abdominal scan, a trans vaginal scan, and a couple of other blood tests; which all came back negative. She gave me some drugs including B12 capsules to help with my period and started tracking my menstrual cycle from when I last saw my period; it was after I ran a full hormone profile test and that she discovered I wasn’t ovulating.”

Dr Tarbunde Worthy of the Defence Headquarters Medical Center, Abuja, told The Gazette that “PCOS causes an imbalance of reproductive hormones, which means a disrupted menstrual cycle and sometimes no ovulation at all.”

Ms Worthy noted a series of tests to be carried out on a patient. “Hormone levels will be assessed, an ultrasound imaging test to see the ovaries will be performed,” Dr Worthy said, “and for some patients considered obese, an MRI to see the ovaries might be necessary.”

The defining features of PCOS are multiple cysts on the ovaries, increased androgen levels, which are male hormones, irregular periods, lack of ovulation, and male pattern hair growth. The Bridge Clinic, a fertility center in Lagos, says that early diagnosis and treatment along with weight loss may reduce the risk of long-term complications such as diabetes and heart disease.

The physician said, to be diagnosed with PCOS,  one must have two or more of these symptoms, “Multiple tests are carried out to rule out other possible causes of the symptoms such as thyroid dysfunction and diabetes.” 

Lydia*(26) told The Gazette that she sought medical attention after she hadn’t seen her period for sometime this year.

“I got it in September 2018 and didn’t get it again until February 2019. I just knew something was wrong because that had never happened before,” Ms Lydia said, ”when the tests came back and I found out it was PCOS, It suddenly made sense why I constantly missed my periods. Apart from that, my struggle with weight gain and horrible acne, I had no other symptoms.”

Ms Lydia added that she worried about getting pregnant as she wants to have kids in the future, but her doctor told her it was still possible to conceive. 

“PCOS can affect one’s chances of getting pregnant, however it is also one of the most treatable causes of infertility in women,” Ms Worthy said, “Treatment for PCOS is tailored to the individual patient and her symptoms. Lifestyle changes like diet and exercise are generally important for PCOS treatment. Medication can be prescribed to treat infertility, hormonal imbalance and menstrual irregularities.”

There are several ways to effectively manage PCOS, but so far there is no cure. Girls and women with PCOS risks are encouraged to exercise regularly and remain physically active as well as changes in their diets. Low-glycemic foods with high vegetable and fruit content have been suggested over carbohydrates. 

*Lydia (not her real name) did not want her name in print for fear of stigmatisation. Her request was granted in line with Peoples Gazette’s policy on anonymous sources.

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