PCOS | Medical Animation | Health & Wellness Educational Series
Read below for a brief video transcription about PCOS.
What is PCOS?
PCOS is a reproductive condition in which a woman has an imbalance of hormones. Those hormones, such as estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone, play many roles in the body’s development and function from guiding puberty and sex drive to producing red blood cells and managing your moods. One important role is controlling ovulation, the process by which a woman’s ovaries release an egg each month. Several eggs prepare for release each month, but only one is released; the others will start to dissolve. The egg travels to your uterus. If it is not fertilized, you shed your uterine lining and the egg itself during your period.
The “cysts” that some women with PCOS have on their ovaries are actually fluid-filled sacs that each contain an egg. The hormonal imbalance in PCOS prevents the eggs from fully maturing, so none of them gets released to the uterus. The other eggs don’t dissolve. The fluid-filled sacs that contain the immature collect on the ovaries and look like cysts.
Pregnancy and PCOS
PCOS is the most common cause of infertility and can raise your risk for problems during pregnancy, like preeclampsia and gestational diabetes. But PCOS impacts women in many ways outside of pregnancy, as well. Most women start to see symptoms during puberty or adolescence, though many, like Sophia, aren’t diagnosed until years later.
Around 10% of women have PCOS, but researchers are still learning about the condition. They know that most women with PCOS have high levels of androgens, hormones more commonly associated with male development, such as testosterone, in their blood, along with irregular fluctuations in several other hormones, such as luteinizing and follicle-stimulating hormones. Those changes prevent their ovaries from releasing an egg or ovulating each month before their period. When they don’t ovulate, they may not get their periods.
Irregular periods are one of the first signs of PCOS. Other symptoms include:
Excess hair on the face and body in areas where men typically grow hair, like the chin and back.
Acne that continues into adulthood.
Insulin resistance, which doesn’t cause many symptoms but can lead to weight gain, dark spots on the skin, and diabetes
Symptoms of PCOS
The symptoms often vary from woman to woman. And many other symptoms are not well understood, such as insomnia.
Causes and Diagnosis
Scientists don’t know what causes PCOS, but your genes and environment seem to play a role. About 25% of women with PCOS have moms with the condition. Some research has found that exposure to environmental chemicals such as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, known as PFAS, which come from factories and products like plastic water bottles, can increase the chances of getting PCOS.
Women like Sophia are also at heightened risk of developing these conditions because of PCOS:
- Endometrial cancer
- Anxiety, depression, and other mental illnesses
- Sleep Apnea
- Heart conditions
- Thyroid problems
Common Treatment Methods
You can treat PCOS in several ways. Whether you’re prescribed medications and which kinds will depend on your symptoms and your goals. Because PCOS can look so different in different people, tracking your symptoms over time may help you and your provider customize a plan that addresses your concerns.
Diet and exercise can be a powerful combination when managing weight, insulin resistance, mental health conditions, heart problems, and other symptoms and risks of PCOS. Since simple carbohydrates like white pasta and potatoes can increase insulin resistance, experts may recommend a low-carb diet for women with PCOS.
Some studies show women with PCOS have chronic inflammation. For these women, the anti-inflammatory diet may help dampen symptoms. Your provider will also probably suggest that you exercise for at least 30 minutes daily, five days a week, if possible.
For many women, diet, and exercise can lower the risk of PCOS and manage most symptoms. It can even help stave off complications like cancer and depression.
Diet and Nutrition for PCOS
Common Treatment Methods Featured in PCOS Medical Animation Video Above
Had Sophia been diagnosed before trying to get pregnant, Sophia’s doctor may have recommended she try taking hormonal birth control pills. These lower androgen levels throughout your body can help with symptoms like acne and facial hair. They’ll also help you menstruate more regularly, lowering your risk of endometrial cancer.
- Birth control pills can come with many side effects, such as:
- Bleeding outside of the week, you’re supposed to get your period
- Breast tenderness
- Blood clots
- Mood changes or depression
In many cases, individuals may try a few different brands with different levels of hormones to find the one that works best for them with the fewest side effects.
Another common option for medicinal treatment is androgen blockers like spironolactone. Androgen blockers stop hormones, like testosterone, from affecting you and can be helpful for those with facial hair and acne.
Spironolactone is a diuretic, meaning it makes you urinate more. It’s often prescribed for heart failure. When taking it, you’ll need to pay attention to signs of dehydration, such as dizziness and fatigue. Other side effects might include:
- Breast pain
- High potassium levels or low sodium levels, both of which can lead to heart rhythm problems
Sophia was trying to get pregnant, and her doctor saw some signs of insulin resistance, so her doctor suggested metformin. This old diabetes drug can help with insulin resistance, weight, and other PCOS symptoms. It might help her start ovulating more regularly.
Metformin can cause side effects such as:
- Gastrointestinal distress (nausea, diarrhea, flatulence, bloating)
- Vitamin B deficiency
- Metallic taste in the mouth
As Sophia tries to get pregnant, if she’s still not ovulating regularly on metformin, her provider may recommend drugs to make her ovulate, such as clomiphene, letrozole, and gonadotropins, in addition to metformin.
These drugs can cause:
- Multiple births
- Nausea and diarrhea
- Hot flashes
Whether you take medicine or not, paying attention to your mental health with PCOS is important. In addition to maintaining a healthy diet and regular physical activity, make sure you take time to destress by doing activities you enjoy, like journaling, drawing, or reading. PCOS is a lifelong condition, and we’re still learning about all it does. There’s no known cure for PCOS, but you can manage it with diet, exercise, and medicine.
Production Team: Emma Yasinski – Writer
Dante Steward, MBA – Executive Producer and Video Editor