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Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), also known as Stein-Leventhal syndrome, is the most common hormonal disease in women of childbearing age. It affects 1 in 10 women and is the leading cause of female infertility, in addition to being associated with metabolic and cardiovascular complications.
Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) was reported by doctors Stein and Leventhal in 1935. Long unrecognized and under-diagnosed, the understanding of the syndrome has greatly evolved in recent years. Although the origin of the hormonal imbalance associated with PCOS is not fully understood, it is thought that this disorder may originate from the ovaries and/or the brain. This hormonal imbalance will result in a suppression of ovulation as well as an abnormally high testosterone secretion.
The presence and intensity of symptoms vary from woman to woman. Among them are:
Ovulations are rare or are completely absent. This results in irregular cycles, longer than 35 to 40 days, or even a total absence of menstruation. In addition, PCOS causes infertility in about half of the women diagnosed with the syndrome. It should be noted that in pregnant women with PCOS, there is an increased risk of miscarriage, complications during pregnancy, as well as obstetrical and neonatal risks (such as gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, hypertension, premature delivery, etc.).
The increased levels of testosterone in the blood will result in excessive pilosity in about 70% of all women with PCOS, as well as acne and hair loss.
PCOS causes long-term complications because it promotes the development of abdominal fat and increases the risk of metabolic syndrome (obesity, dyslipidemia, high blood pressure, blood sugar disorder). This leads to insulin resistance and then diabetes, and is a risk factor for cardiovascular diseases.
Not all women with PCOS are overweight, as 20 to 24% of them are thin. These women are at a higher risk of under-diagnosis because they may not have certain symptoms such as irregular periods and acne.
However, they are equally exposed to metabolic alterations and long-term cardiovascular risks.
Recent studies have shown a link between PCOS and anxiety, depression and a poorer quality of life. This may be explained by the presence of infertility, hirsutism, hair loss and acne. In addition, eating disorders such as anorexia, bulimia and binge eating are observed in patients with PCOS, especially in those who experience anxiety and depression.
Treatment for PCOS aims to treat symptoms and includes:
According to official recommendations, all women with PCOS should adopt a healthy diet and active lifestyle throughout their lives.
Several balanced eating approaches can be considered, including the following diets: Mediterranean, Low-Carb, Low-Glycemic Index and DASH.
The important thing is to:
For overweight women, a gradual loss of about 5 to 10% of their initial weight is recommended to reduce symptoms. If you want a personalized follow-up, our dietitians are here to help.
For those who are not overweight, losing weight does not bring any benefit. On the other hand, eating a balanced diet and including physical activity remains beneficial in reducing long-term complications.
It is also essential to be active. Aim for 30 minutes of activity per day or a total of 3 hours per week. Fast walking, running, swimming, cycling, dancing, tennis, even gardening and hiking, are all good choices. Vary the activities so you don’t get bored and consider adding muscle building exercises 2 non-consecutive days a week.
There is no single medical treatment. It must be individualized and adapted to the person. The aim is to improve the symptoms associated with PCOS in relation to excess androgens, menstrual irregularities, anovulation, insulin resistance and one’s metabolic profile. Depending on the individual, it may be recommended to take a birth control pill or diabetes medication; it is important to talk with your doctor.
Women with PCOS can experience multiple symptoms that can greatly affect their quality of life. This syndrome cannot be cured, however changing one’s lifestyle habits (eating a balanced diet, exercising, reducing alcohol consumption) and achieving (and maintaining) a healthy weight can relieve symptoms and prevent chronic health problems in the long run.