Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), a condition in which female hormones are out of whack, has become a widespread problem. 1 out of every 5 women in India suffers from this condition, making it a prevalent affliction. Here the level of the male hormone testosterone increases, leading to various disturbances. Some of its symptoms are irregular/infrequent periods, acne, excessive hair growth, weight gain and diabetes.
The female menstrual cycle after being irregular for the first few times, sets itself to a regular rhythm. Any gross imbalance thereafter should be a cause of concern. Although PCOS is not the only reason for a delayed or missed period – pregnancy, stress, anxiety etc being some of them, PCOS should be considered a possibility in case of any deviance.
A variety of genetic, environmental and lifestyle factors are at play here. More common in women with family history of it, obesity has also been cited as a contributory cause.
A survey conducted with 2800 respondents across India went on to reveal that as many as 65 percent of women were not even aware of the symptoms of PCOS. Though a common condition, PCOS and its symptoms are not clearly understood, adding to the overall confusion and missed diagnoses.
Key Findings of National PCOS Survey by Oziva
Sufferers of PCOS are known to have higher than normal levels of insulin, a finding commonly seen in type 2 diabetics. In addition, it has a significant impact on mental health, manifesting as stress, anxiety or depression. Early diagnosis of PCOS is important, not only as it has huge repercussions on daily functioning of the sufferer, but also because it leads to increased risk for developing type 2 diabetes, infertility, dyslipidemia, hypertension, heart disease, stroke and endometrial cancer later in life.
PCOS manifests typically during adolescence; therefore promotion of healthy lifestyle, early diagnosis and interventions are required to prevent future morbidities. It is of note that while PCOS cannot be cured, with systematic treatment and lifestyle modification, it can largely be brought under good control.
At first, your doctor will prescribe lifestyle modification as part of the treatment plan – weight reduction, exercise and a low carbohydrate/high protein diet can help assuage the imbalance. If the problems persist, oral contraceptives can be prescribed for acne and irregular periods. For women struggling with infertility, various medical/surgical treatments are available.
Mental health is a significant concern here; thankfully there are a wide range of medications available today to help manage the symptoms. The role of Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) also cannot be stressed upon enough.
Start-ups working in the PCOS space
India is seeing a welcome uptick in the dialogue around women’s health. Awareness around women’s reproductive and mental health has long been overdue. The change in the direction of the discourse is heartening. As such, there are many companies working to help women manage PCOS better.
@pcosclubIndia – This is one of the earliest communities in India to spearhead the PCOS awareness campaign. Founded by Nidhi Singh, it aims to foster a healthy and safe space for women to speak up, also having teamed up with certified doctors.
Veera health – Based out of Mumbai, Veera health has adopted a holistic approach to PCOS. With paid subscriptions available, women have access to gynecologists, dermatologists, nutritionists and fitness experts. Therapists and psychiatrists can be consulted too.
&Me – Catering chiefly to the nutritional health of women, they have a gamut of products available, period chocolates and PCOS health drinks being some of them. Infused with herbs, vitamins, fruit and vegetable extracts, they promise to be soothing to the gut and stress alleviating.
As we saw, PCOS today is a mammoth challenge, afflicting at least a quarter of our female populace. Debilitating and negatively affecting the quality of life, it is crucial that the disorder be diagnosed early and managed effectively. Many start-ups have started a positive dialogue. That, however, is by no means sufficient on its own. It is also largely incumbent upon us – healthcare workers, colleagues, family and friends, to raise awareness about the same.
Women’s health has long been shrouded in mystery and taboo. Ours will be the generation to destigmatize and help it gain the attention it deserves. Together, let’s vow to remain silent no more.
Shreya is an MBBS graduate, with a keen interest in psychiatry and Public health. Outside of work, she likes reading, playing with dogs, and hiking.