Psychosocial and Emotional Impact of PCOS

What Causes PCOS?

The hormonal disorder, polycystic ovary syndrome, is characterised by an abundance of the so-called male hormones, androgens and while these hormones are produced by both men and women, they are found in much greater quantity in males.  An abundance of these hormones in the female body has a profound effect and interferes with the level of other hormones, thus skewing the balance.

These imbalances cause disturbances in the normal menstrual cycle of women, ultimately turning partially developed follicles - which would later become eggs - into small cysts on the ovaries.  Studies are indicating that, while the exact cause of PCOS remains unknown, it does seem to have some hereditary component.  One study indicated that sisters of women with PCOS have up to a 50% chance of exhibiting symptoms of the condition. (Silva PD. Polycystic ovary syndrome: An update The Female Patient 2000 Vol. 25 No 9)

Symptoms and Emotional Effect

Women with PCOS experience a wide spectrum of symptoms associated with androgen excess, including hirsutism (excess hair growth) and acne.  An increased amount of coarse hair can appear on a woman's face, chest, nipples, thighs, or on the abdomen.   For many women, this is a highly distressing and embarrassing development which affects self-esteem and body image.  Many women begin to genuinely wonder about their femininity and become very depressed.  The embarrassment can prevent them from seeking professional help and they end up using home treatments which are often not suitable for the control of hormonal hair growth.  Conversely, some women suffer from male-patterned hair loss (alopecia), an equally distressing situation.

Acne & Obesity - Yet More Challenges

Acne, also associated with PCOS, carries with it its own adverse impact.  The frustration and embarrassment of what is often considered a teenager's problem, emotionally and mentally affects women.  Also,  the scarring associated with moderate to severe acne leaves a woman feeling less than lovely.

Up to 70% of women with PCOS suffer from another common symptom of PCOS - obesity. (Hunter MH & Sterrett JJ. Polycystic Ovary Syndrome: It's not just infertility American Family Physician, 12/6/2001). Weight gained is mostly in the abdominal region, rather than the more normal regions of hips, buttocks and thighs.  This weight gain opens another door to emotional pain and depression as a woman's body and her self-image is being chipped away.  She feels out of control and vulnerable. 

It is important for women with PCOS to be supported as much as possible with help groups and understanding medical professionals who can guide them into their healing.

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