Polycystic Ovary Syndrome
What is polycystic ovary syndrome?
Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), also known by the names polycystic ovarian syndrome, polycystic ovary disease, hyperandrogenic anovulation syndrome or Stein-Leventhal syndrome, is a complex endocrine and metabolic condition that affects 5%–10% of women of reproductive age. It occurs when the ovaries produce too much of the male hormones (androgens) that cause women to have a variety of symptoms.
During a normal menstrual cycle, many small follicles grow in the ovaries and form eggs, with only one egg being released (ovulation) at mid-cycle, while the other follicles over-ripen and break down. However, in PCOS, the follicles do not break down, but fill with fluid, turning into cysts. These cysts and the connective tissue surrounding them, the stroma, produce male hormones called androgens. The high levels of androgens block follicular development, and as a result, inhibit ovulation.
Polycystic ovaries contain a large number of cysts that are no larger than 8mm each. The cysts are under-developed follicles that fail to release the egg. Furthermore, these follicular cysts can cause the ovaries to enlarge and create a thick outer covering which may prevent ovulation from occurring.
PCOS is thought to be one of the leading causes of infertility and endocrine and metabolic problems, such as obesity, diabetes, hypertension and hypercholesterolemia, in women of childbearing age.
What can cause polycystic ovary syndrome?
The exact cause of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is not yet known. Most experts believe that several factors can lead to its development, including:
- Genetic factors – women with PCOS are more likely to have a family history of PCOS.
- Hormonal imbalance – Higher levels of LH (luteinizing hormone) and lower levels of FSH (follicle-stimulating hormone) are often found in women with PCOS, and remain so throughout the cycle. LH stimulates the cells of the ovary to produce androgens, which block follicular development, causing the follicles to degenerate. This decreases the chances of ovulation occurring. Raised levels of prolactin may be seen in some women with PCOS. The exact cause of how and why this hormonal imbalance occurs is not clear. It has been suggested that the problem may start within the ovary itself, and/or in the pituitary gland and part of the brain that controls it.
- Insulin resistance – the body is resistant to the effects of insulin, and therefore has to produce extra insulin to compensate. Excess insulin may cause the ovaries to produce too much testosterone (androgen), which interferes with the development of the follicles, and prevents normal ovulation.
Symptoms and complications of PCOS
The symptoms of PCOS can vary from person to person. Some of the most common symptoms of PCOS include:
- Irregular, heavy or infrequent periods, or no periods at all
- Hirsutism – excessive hair growth
- Acne or oily skin
- Thinning hair or hair loss
- Mood changes, depression, anxiety and insomnia
If you suspect you may have PCOS, you should consult your doctor, and undertake appropriate medical examinations such as ultrasound and blood tests.
Women with PCOS have greater chances of developing several serious health conditions, including life-threatening diseases, such as:
- Metabolic Syndrome – a cluster of conditions, including hypertension, high cholesterol levels, obesity, insulin resistance and diabetes, which increase the risk of heart disease and stroke later in life.
- Endometrial cancer – failure to ovulate causes women have infrequent periods, which results in a build-up of the lining of the uterus (endometrium). This may increase the risk of the uterine lining producing mutated cells, which can turn into cancer.
How TCM may help
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, PCOS can be seen as an excess condition, a deficient condition, or a combination of both an excess and deficient condition.
- Phlegm and/or dampness accumulation
- Liver Qi stagnation
- Blood stasis
- Kidney Yang deficiency
- Kidney Yin deficiency
- Spleen Qi deficiency
Your TCM doctor will ask many questions about your medical history and check your tongue and pulse on the first visit. From that, they will differentiate your pattern and attempt to treat the root cause of the PCOS.
These treatments may bring following benefits for patients with PCOS:
- Acting on the hypothalamus-pituitary-ovarian (HPO) axis to help balance the hormonal systems of the body
- Dissolving the waxy coat around the ovarian cysts
- Regulating menstrual cycle and promoting ovulation
- Encouraging conception and a healthy pregnancy
- Calming over activity of the sympathetic nervous system
- Helping regulate metabolic disorders and reducing insulin resistance
How we can help
Generally Dr. Xing aims to assist patients with PCOS by combining weekly acupuncture sessions with concentrated powdered extracts of Chinese herbs. He will also provide dietary and lifestyle advice to his patients, according to their individual circumstances. He stresses that good lifestyle habits are very important for women with PCOS who wish to become pregnant. Exercise and diet are also the key factors in reducing their risk of endocrinal and metabolic conditions, such as diabetes and heart disease.
He devises an individualised program for each patient based on the root cause of the excesses or deficiencies of the person’s conditions. Treatment may involve acupuncture and chinese medicine Melbourne for nourishing kidney Yin and warming kidney Yang in order to help follicular development, clearing the stagnation of liver Qi, dispelling of phlegm/dampness and dredging the meridian in order to promote ovulation. Anovulatory women should begin to notice signs of ovulation after a few months of treatment. Women with belated ovulation will often notice that their ovulation comes earlier and the menstrual cycle becomes more regular.
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