Have you been diagnosed with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome and are wondering how to deal with it? Have you been googling PCOD and coming up with dead-end searches, often leading to PCOS? What is PCOD? What is PCOS? How are they different? Let’s deep dive and help you!
What is PCOD?
Every month an egg matures inside the ovary and makes its way down the fallopian tube hoping to be fertilised by a sperm. Sometimes these eggs don’t mature fully. The formation of such immature or partially mature eggs in the ovaries is what gives rise to PCOD, or Polycystic Ovarian Disease. These eggs may turn into cysts over time. Cysts may sound cancerous, but they are not. Cysts are usually benign, and only interfere in the body’s production of hormones—more about which we shall discover in this article.
Polycystic Ovarian Disease affects close to 10% of women between the ages of 12 and 45. It can disrupt your menstrual cycle, impair your ability to conceive, and have a significant impact on your lifestyle. If left untreated, it can lead to insulin resistant diabetes, obesity, and high cholesterol, all of which can lead to heart disease. But not to worry since this is a condition that you can take control of, once you gain access to the right treatment plans and lifestyle choices.
PCOS and PCOD - What’s the difference?
Most people get confused between PCOD and PCOS all the time. There are different areas through which PCOD is different. Those with this condition experience secretion of large amounts of androgen (the male hormones present in small quantities in our body), have their ovaries enlarged, while facing infertility issues and face general disturbances in their life choices. In short, the reason for the PCOD problem is hormonal imbalance. The best PCOD treatment is reducing the severity of such symptoms and working on making healthy and wise lifestyle choices. Timely diagnosis also plays a huge part in PCOD treatment.
PCOS, on the other hand, is more to do with a malfunction of the endocrine system. The endocrine system is the one that controls the flow of hormones in our body and is controlled by the hypothalamus in the brain. When the hypothalamus malfunctions, it affects the secretion of hormones in the body, causing various symptoms such as the formation of cysts, hair in undesirable places and infertility.
In essence, thus, even though both PCOD and PCOS present themselves in very similar manners, their cause is different. PCOS is genetic and caused by a systemic change in a body system, while PCOD is more hormone-function related. PCOS also presents itself closer to one’s childhood and may be genetic, while PCOD can develop at any time in life. PCOD is also more easily treated.
Key Causes of PCOD
Though the exact causes of PCOD are unknown, there are a few contributing factors:
- The ovaries produce too many male hormones, or androgens. This leads to hirsutism and acne. Hirsutism is the appearance of large amounts of hair on the face, chest, back, stomach and other regions where women typically do not have hair.
- Early/delayed menarche: When women attain menarche at an early age their reproductive organs are exposed to estrogen at an earlier age than usual. This sudden change could lead to imbalance in the menstrual cycle which may lead to the development of diseases like PCOD.
- Unhealthy lifestyle: An unhealthy lifestyle can play a major role in causing havoc to the body. It can set off hormonal triggers and lead to underperformance or overperformance of your hormones. Hormone overproduction or underproduction can result in hormonal imbalance, which can lead to conditions such as PCOD and other diseases. This could be caused by a sedentary lifestyle or a poor diet. This leads to an excess of fat tissue usually combined with hyperinsulinism. This in turn sets off a trigger for the disease.
- Pollution: Pollution as we know is a contributing factor to most health problems. It can set off triggers in the body that may lead to PCOD problems in the future.
- Excess insulin production: When the cells in the human body become resistant to insulin, blood sugar levels rise. In reaction to this the body creates excess insulin to control the blood sugar level in the body. Increased insulin levels result in the production of androgen, a male hormone. This shift in the androgen levels make the process of ovulation difficult.
- Heredity: Genetics play an important role in this disease as a contributing factor. Other factors like gestational diabetes of the mother can also be one among the reasons for PCOD problems in future.
What Are the Most Prominent Complications You Might Face?
Inability to ovulate is one of the primary PCOD causes. There will be a regular growth of a follicle but the abnormal hormonal milieu retards it and prevents ovulation or release of the egg. Early detection and treatment of PCOD may aid in the prevention of infertility and other health risks.
Obesity related issues such as high blood pressure, heart problems and diabetes are also in the list of complications to face when living with Polycystic Ovarian Disease.
If not treated, the disease's consequences can have a significant impact on your life, including an increased risk of endometrial and breast cancer, as well as cardiovascular disease.
Tests to check for complications
Lipid Profile:Triglyceride levels may be dangerously elevated in patients with PCOD. This increases the risk of stroke and heart disease in PCOD patients.
Blood Glucose and Insulin levels:In patients with PCOD, the body gets resistant to insulin and thus the risk of diabetes increases. Elevated levels of blood sugar and insulin indicates diabetes due to insulin resistance.
Ultrasound:Abdominal ultrasound or vaginal ultrasound helps to detect the presence of multiple cysts on the ovaries and its enlargement. In patients with PCOS, ovaries may be nearly 1.5-3 times larger than normally.
- Owing to the irregularities of the menstrual cycle in patients with PCOD, the inner lining of the uterus builds up over a long period of time. This may ultimately result in uterine (endometrial) cancer. If a patient with PCOS has menstrual irregularities for over a year, a transvaginal ultrasound should be done to rule out uterine cancer.
Tell-tale Symptoms of PCOD
Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome presents itself with certain distinct external symptoms. These are usually what get noticed first, over the more important internal symptoms, even over irregular periods.
Lipika (name changed) who works in a fertility clinic in Bhopal told us, “It’s mostly new brides who are brought here by in-laws after a few months of marriage. ‘Why is she not getting pregnant?’ they ask us. We do an ultrasound and the reason is always the same—PCOD or PCOS. Turns out the girl has had irregular periods for years, but only now when she cannot have a child has it received a diagnosis.”
In other situations, it is often the gaining of weight or the sprouting of hair that takes women to doctors. Even though these often manifest after periods being irregular, these are what finally leads to a diagnosis. “My mother kept saying irregular periods is a growth thing, it happens in one’s late teens,” says Shilpi from Mumbai. “It was only when I kept putting on weight and we needed to find a boy for marriage that she finally agreed to go to the gynaecologist. Till then everything was fine.”
The main symptoms of PCOS are as follows:
- Weight gain and trouble losing weight
- Extra hair on the face and body. This may lead to thicker, darker facial hair and more hair on the chest, belly, and back.
- Thinning hair on the scalp
- Irregular periods. While some have none or few periods a year, others face extremely heavy and painful bleeding during their periods.
- Fertility problems. Many women with pcod problem have trouble getting pregnant due to ovulation issues.
- Depression and other mental health issues are one of the major pcod symptoms. Not just with pcod, but with most hormonal imbalance related diseases, mental health ilnesses are a tag along. If you face hindrance in daily life activities due to this, it is best to seek professional help as stress may only act negatively with other pcod symptoms.
Weight gain, which is the symptom that usually pushes women to seek a consultation is one of the most common symptoms of weight gain. “We see girls starve themselves, hate themselves,” says Lipika. “Family members say horrible things, call them names, say they will never get married. They are shamed for eating too much even when they aren’t. The weight gain is not their fault. Their hormones are causing their bodies to store fat in unhealthy manners.”
The more weight gained the worse the PCOS. The worse the PCOS the more weight gained. It is a vicious cycle in which various women get caught. The one way to break it? Regular health check-ups.
In most cases, the diagnosis is clinical. The hormonal analysis may act as a supporting factor though it generally is not a prerequisite for the diagnosis. The oral glucose tolerance test aids in diagnosing insulin resistance, which is one of the prominent patho-physiology tests conducted to diagnose PCOD. Keeping a mark of your menstrual cycle as well as testing hormonal balances may also support the diagnosis. The presence of at least two of the following symptoms are also key indicators of the disease.
- Irregular periods
- Signs of high levels of androgens - Hirsutism., acne and thinning of scalp hair
- Higher blood levels of androgens
- Polycystic ovaries
A pelvic exam is also conducted to check for masses, growths or other abnormalities in the reproductive organs. A few diagnostic tests to check blood, glucose tolerance, cholesterol and triglyceride levels etc, are also run. An ultrasound may also be conducted to examine the appearance of your ovaries and the thickness of the lining of your uterus.
A detailed diagnosis would include medical history which may contain information regarding menstrual cycles and weight changes. Vitals, excess hair growth, acne and body mass index are also checked. If the physician suspects that you have PCOD, he would refer you for a battery of Blood tests. Your blood sample would be tested for checking the hormonal levels and to rule out other conditions that may have symptoms that are similar to PCOD.
If diagnosed, these are some of the things you may find:
- Follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) may be low
- Lutenizing hormone (LH) is elevated
- Testosterone is usually elevated
- Estrogen level may be normal or elevated
- Thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH): Levels of TSH would indicate whether you have hyperthyroidism or hypothyroidism. This may also be a pcod symptom.
- Prolactin: Elevated levels of prolactin may also cause menstrual irregularities and infertility.
A screening for depression and anxiety as well as for obstructive sleep apnoea may also be done since hormonal imbalances deeply affect mental health.
Potential PCOD Treatment Measures
Since conditions such as PCOD and PCOS do not have any discovered cure, their management focuses mainly on managing symptoms or individual concerns, such as infertility, hirsutism, acne or obesity. Such concerns could also include:
- Lowering of blood glucose levels
- Restoration of fertility
- Treatment of hirsutism or acne
- Restoration of regular menstruation, and prevention of endometrial related issues
Among these PCOD problems, losing weight (which can be difficult) has been proven to help with diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. Even a meagre percentage of weight loss of total body weight has been proven to help with the hormone imbalances as well as with infertility.
Lifestyle measures for the prevention of PCOD:
“The key with PCOS is consistency,” says Sucheta, a resident of Bhopal in the first year of college. “My most major issue was weight gain, and it would not go no matter the diet or the exercise. I got depressed and it started increasing more. My doctor gave me a diet and hormone therapy. For the first few months the weight loss was very very very slow. But then slowly, it started increasing. In a year, thanks to being consistent, I lost 15 kgs. The weight loss then slowed the issues of PCOS also. So just stick to things. That’s all.”
A few ways to manage PCOS at home include:
- Eat a balanced diet: Consuming a diet that includes a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables will help in providing proper nutrition, satisfying your hunger and decreasing craving for food. This will help maintain a balanced diet which will help with the management of excess weight.
- Exercise regularly: Exercising regularly, helps to keep you fit and to avoid a sedentary lifestyle which is one of the main reasons for PCOD problems. Any form of exercise works as long as it keeps you up and moving. Even walking is an effective treatment for PCOD problems. Exercising regularly during periods can also help reduce period cramps by increasing blood supply to the vessels in the area.
- Maintain a healthy weight: Maintaining healthy weight reduces the risk of diabetes and cardiovascular diseases, which PCOD patients are otherwise at risk for.
Diet to treat PCOD
Those suffering from PCOD are encouraged to follow a PCOD diet with low fat and carbohydrate content. This would prevent any sudden surge in your blood sugar levels and would help with keeping a check on your weight. Foods that may be included are:
- Natural, unprocessed food
- Spinach, kale and other leafy vegetables
- Foods high in fiber
- Broccoli and cauliflower
- Nuts and legumes
- Whole grain
- Low-fat dairy
What exercises are best for PCOD?
Your primary concern while facing PCOD should be reducing your BMI (Body Mass Index) and not specifically focused on your weight or body fat. Various types of exercises that you could consider are
- High-Intensity interval training (HIIT)
- Cardiovascular workouts
- Mind-body exercises
- Strength training
- Interval training
Even if you played a sport you like for an hour, or did a bit of high intensity cardio for 45 minutes a day, things would be okay. The key, however, is to keep moving.
Living with PCOD - What Is The Outlook?
Among the many topics that take control of the discussions among women, Polycystic Ovarian Disease (PCOD), would dominate a major part. Though the symptoms and complications vary from person to person and according to age, the overall struggle faced by those with PCOD is a unifying factor.
Lack of awareness:
A factor that unites those who suffer from PCOS problems is late intervention and low awareness. Though it can be a harrowing experience, with consistent effort one can manage the disease and get it under control. Despite the commonality of the condition, most people struggle to have an open conversation about PCOD or even get diagnosed correctly due to lack of awareness due to the persisting taboo in society about women’s health issues. To be able to live with a condition one must be able to make open discussions and educate themselves about it. This includes discussions about reasons for PCOD problems, solutions for PCOD problems, treatment plans, causes and symptoms of PCOD problem in females.
It is also majorly important to get past societal stigma. This would mean making open conversation about PCOD, how it not only affects physical health but also the mental health of those going through it. While doing this, it is also equally important to take adequate measures to take care of your physical and mental health. Treatment plans should be followed without fail after proper diagnosis.
Along with treatment procedures and medicines, staying fit is of great importance too. Exercising and eating healthy will only aid positively with your healing journey. Adding fruits and vegetables to your diet is a prominent step to getting better.
Kick your addictions:
Avoiding or limiting alcohol and cigarettes is yet another step in the right direction.
Sleep, choose well:
Your sleep schedule plays an important role too. Meanwhile it should also be noted that one should choose a treatment and diet plan that fits with their personal symptoms and struggles.
Seeking professional help while dealing with mental health issues is also a crucial step in taking care of yourself while dealing with PCOD. Talking to a professional will also help with fighting that stigma surrounding PCOD and its supposedly unspeakable symptoms like infertility, mood swings and the like.
Use the correct Heavy Flow Pads:
PCOS patients must also get themselves a heavy flow pad such as RIO pads. RIO Heavy Flow Pads are thicker and longer and absorb 3x the amount of blood as regular pads. They have double wings and side flow-lock guards that hold blood inside and avoid any sort of trickling out. One of the major concerns PCOS patients face is heavy flow and the leakage and staining caused by it. It is best to use RIO Heavy Flow Pads or such specialised products to help control such emergencies.
Though there is no clear cause or exact cure for PCOD one shouldn't let go of hope. Early diagnosis of PCOD will be detrimental in relieving the symptoms as well as to treat the complications involved. PCOD treatment helps you to manage your health concerns, including infertility, hirsutism, acne, immature follicles, obesity and mental health issues. However, some treatment might involve lifestyle changes or medication. Taking a diagnosis and working with your treatment plans would be the first step in this process.
Bottom-line: It is important to work towards your physical and mental well-being despite the stigma or struggle attached to PCOD.
When to Consult a Doctor?
Prevention of PCOD might not be possible. But, detection and managing it well is the key to leading a healthier lifestyle.
You should visit your doctor if you notice any of the symptoms we have mentioned in this guide, or if you notice any sudden changes in your menstrual cycle, flow, duration, etc. Always trust your gut instincts and believe when it tells you that things might not actually be as well as they seem. It would be our suggestion to keep visiting your healthcare provider for regular check-ups anyway.