Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)

What is polycystic ovary syndrome?

Polycystic ovary syndrome is a common condition that affects how a woman’s ovaries work. There are three main features of PCOS, whereby 2 or more of these features may result in a diagnosis of PCOS. These include:

 

1. Irregular periods – which means your ovaries do not regularly release eggs (ovulation).
2. Excess androgen – high levels of “male” hormones in your body, which may cause physical signs such as excess facial or body hair. This hormone imbalance also causes the body to skip menstrual periods, therefore making it harder the individual to fall pregnant.
3. Polycystic ovaries – ovaries tend to become enlarged and contain many fluid-filled sacs (follicles) that surround the eggs. Despite the name, you do not actually have cysts if you have PCOS.

What are the common symptoms of polycystic ovary syndrome?

The symptoms onset for PCOS symptoms is usually in late teens or early 20s. It is also important to note that not all women with PCOS will experience all the symptoms, and each symptom can vary from mild to severe. Some women only experience menstrual problems or are unable to conceive, or both.

 

The common symptoms of PCOS include:
1. Irregular periods or no periods at all.
2. Difficulty getting pregnant (because of irregular ovulation or failure to ovulate)
3. Excessive hair growth (hirsutism) – usually on the face, chest, back or buttocks.
4. Weight gain.
5. Thinning hair and hair loss from the head.
6. Oily skin or acne.
7. Mood changes – including anxiety and depression.
8. Sleep apnoea.

What causes polycystic ovary syndrome?

Women who have a mother, aunt, or sister with PCOS are 50 per cent more likely to develop PCOS. The cause is not fully understood, however family history and genetics, hormones and lifestyle play a role. Insulin resistance is present in up to four out of five women with PCOS.

 

Whilst the exact cause remains unknown, PCOS has been found to runs in families. Research wise, what is known is that PCOS is related to abnormal hormone levels in the body, including high levels of insulin. Insulin is the hormone that controls the sugar levels with our body.

 

The higher levels of insulin produced contributes to the increased production and activity of hormones like testosterone. Falling within the overweight or obese range has also been found to increase the amount of insulin the body produces.

 

The treatment of PCOS involves connecting with a GP and exploring relevant referral to manage symptoms. With treatment of symptoms, most women with PCOS are found to fall pregnant.

How may polycystic ovary syndrome impact my life?

PCOS has been found to be a common cause of female infertility, therefore resulting in increased levels of stress and anxiety on the women and their partner. Many women discover they have PCOS when trying to fall pregnant and are unsuccessful.

 

During each menstrual cycle, the ovaries release an egg (ovum) into the uterus (womb). This process is called ovulation and usually occurs once a month. Research has shown that women with PCOS often do not ovulate, or perhaps ovulate infrequently, which means they have irregular or absent periods. Due to the infrequent ovulation, women with PCOS find it difficult to fall pregnant.

How does polycystic ovary syndrome impact mental health?

Women with PCOS have often been found to experience severe symptoms of depression and anxiety, however this is often overlooked, undiagnosed and unfortunately untreated. It is evident that symptoms of PCOS, often including excess hair growth, hair loss, weight changes and fertility problems, acne, negatively affect the individual’s mood, self-confidence, and body image.

 

The symptoms of PCOS usually occurs in late teens or early 20s, which is also a very vulnerable age for young women.

How is mental health treatment going to help?

Whilst we are not entirely sur about the exact cause of PCOS, one of the main symptoms management strategies of PCOS is a healthy lifestyle. This may involve eating a nutritious diet, being active, and maintaining a healthy weight. There will be a significant difficulty in actioning these basic known management strategies when the women are experiencing reduced or poor mental health such as depression or anxiety. With depression and anxiety, it often results in withdrawal and reduced motivation for behavioural activation, therefore an active and healthy life is a real struggle.

 

Experiencing anxiety and depression can make that much more difficult to look after yourself, follow a healthy lifestyle, and make the best decisions about your health. With a warm and compassionate psychologist that has a special interest in women’s health and PCOS, education about PCOS and appropriate treatment, your emotional health can be improved.

What professionals can support me through symptoms management of polycystic ovary syndrome?

At Positive Wellbeing Psychology, we find that a team of health professionals working together with adopting a multidisciplinary approach, is the best way to manage and treat PCOS.

 

A healthcare team to help manage polycystic ovary syndrome may include:

1. GP
2. Endocrinologist (hormone specialist)
3. Gynaecologist (for fertility or bleeding issues)
4. Dietitian
5. Exercise physiologist or physiotherapist
6. Psychologist

What is the first step to exploring a possible diagnosis of PCOS?

Early diagnosis is important to manage symptoms and may prevent long-term health problems such as diabetes from developing. Medical treatment and diagnosis of PCOS starts with your GP. Your GP and specialists can discuss possible treatments with you to help you decide what treatment best suits you. The diagnosis process will likely involve your GP exploring the following:
> Medical history
> Examination
> Tests to measure hormone levels in the blood
> Other tests when necessary, such as a pelvic ultrasound.

How can Positive Wellbeing Psychology help?

At Positive Wellbeing Psychology, our warm and compassionate psychologists have a special interest in women’s health. This includes PCOS, body image, and fertility.

 

You may also benefit from speaking with one of our psychologists to explore a little more about the lifestyle factors that reduce the severity of symptoms of PCOS, as well as exploring techniques to manage anxiety and distress. Our psychologists adopt a multidisciplinary approach with GP’s, endocrinologists, dieticians, exercise physiologists or physiotherapists, and psychiatrists to establish the best possible care and individualised treatment plan. Our team have found this is the best way to manage and treat PCOS and to instil hope and confidence in your journey.

Need more immediate help?

If you need immediate help or your life is in danger, please call ‘triple zero’ (000). If you are thinking of harming yourself, it is important to reach out for immediate support. If someone you know is at immediate risk of harm, please also call ‘triple zero’ (000) as a matter of urgency.

 

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Our Australian Registered Psychologists have a special interest in women’s health including polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), body image, fertility.