PCOD (Polycystic Ovarian Disease)

PCOD Symptoms

PCOD (Polycystic Ovarian Disease) is one of the most common hormonal condition that affect 5% to 10% of women in their childbearing ages (12 to 45-years). It affects the ovaries in women by causing cysts. Please note, cysts means fluid-filled sacs.

In PCOD, the women ovaries produce large numbers of immature or partially-mature eggs, which do not release from the ovary and remain there as fluid filled sacs (cysts). Further, due to this, ovaries become swollen and enlarged.

Generally, the ovaries produce a limited amount of male hormones known as androgens. However, the swollen and enlarged ovaries starts releasing large amount of androgens (male hormones), which may lead to irregular periods, complete absence of ovulation and even infertility in women. Moreover, this hormonal imbalance makes it harder for the woman to get pregnant.

Further, there is no set cure as such for PCOD, but one of the best ways to manage it is by introducing changes in your lifestyle as per your doctor advise.

What are the symptoms of PCOD?

The signs and symptoms of PCOD usually appear during or after the first period. However, some females only discover PCOD, when they have gained a lot of weight over the years or trouble getting pregnant. 

Furthermore, PCOD does not cause only one type of symptom. Its symptoms depends upon the overall health status of a woman. Many women do not even realize that they have PCOD. Therefore, it is imperative to pay attention to the symptoms for an early diagnosis of the PCOD.

 The most common signs and symptoms of PCOD in females are:

  • Irregular Periods: One of the most common symptom of PCOD is irregular periods. Many women with PCOD have less than nine periods in a year.
  • Difficulty in getting pregnant: Fertility problems do occur in people with PCOD, because, the hormonal imbalance in the body reduce the frequency of ovulation in women. As a result, it heavily affects the periods and cause menstrual problems. Hence, many females with PCOD finds it difficult to get pregnant.
  • Excessive Hair Growth (on face, back, belly and chest): In PCOD, ovaries secrete excess amount of male hormones know androgen. Hence, increased level of androgen may lead to excessive hair growth in females on their face, back, stomach and chest. The condition is known as hirsutism.
  • Acne on face, neck and back: Females with PCOD develop visible acne on various parts of the body, like the face, neck, and back. Due to excess amounts of male hormones, the skin secretes more oil causing more acne.
  • Weight Gain: There is an uncontrolled increase in weight in woman with PCOD and the patient faces problems in losing it. Moreover, fat deposit around the waist area is common symptom in PCOD.
  • Hair Loss: In PCOD, the hair on the scalp starts becoming thinner and fall out. This symptom is due to the increased production of male hormones in the body.
  • Heavy menstrual bleeding: In a normal menstrual cycle, a balance between the hormones estrogen and progesterone regulates the buildup of the lining of the uterus (endometrium), which is shed during menstruation.

    However, due to hormonal imbalance, periods are irregular in women with PCOD. Further, due to irregular periods, the lining of their uterus develops in excess and becomes too thick. This leads to heavier bleeding whenever the periods occur.
  • Darkening of the skin: Darkening of the skin in the neck region, under the breasts and in the groin is a common symptom of PCOD in females. Please note, Groin means the place where your legs join the main part of the body, including the area around the genitals.

Causes of PCOD (Polycystic Ovarian Disease)

Exactly how women get affected by PCOD is still unknown, because it is a hormonal disorder and many factors contribute to it. However, below mentioned are some of the common causes of PCOD.

  • Insulin resistance: Insulin resistance affects around 70% of women who have PCOD. Insulin is a hormone which helps the body to utilize sugar from the foods we eat for energy. But, due to insulin resistance, the cells in our body are unable to use insulin properly. As a result, the body’s demand for insulin increases. Hence, the pancreas in our body starts producing more insulin.

    Furthermore, due to increased insulin levels, more androgen (a male hormone) is produced by the body. This disrupts hormonal balance in female body and lead to infertility.
  • Overproduction of male hormones (Androgens): PCOD is a hormonal condition, which affects the ovaries in women by causing cysts (fluid-filled sacs). As a result, the ovaries starts releasing large amount of androgens (male hormones). This may lead to irregular periods, complete absence of ovulation and even infertility in women. This may also cause growth of pimples and extra hair on face, back, belly and chest.
  • Low Grade Inflammation: White blood cells in your body make substances in response to infection or injury. This response is known as low grade inflammation. Researchers have found that, people with PCOD have long term, low grade inflammation that leads ovaries to produce more androgens.
  • Overweight: Overweight or Obesity are major causes of insulin resistance in a woman. Further it might make PCOD symptoms worse.
  • Family History (Heredity): PCOD seems to run in families. The women who have PCOD might have got it from their mothers or close female relatives. 

Complications due to PCOD (Polycystic Ovarian Disease)

Following are the complications related to PCOD:

  • Infertility: To get pregnant, you have to ovulate. However, due to PCOD, the hormonal imbalance in your body reduce the frequency of ovulation. As a result, it heavily affects your periods and cause menstrual problems. Therefore, PCOD is one of the leading causes of infertility in women.
  • Miscarriages and Premature Birth: PCOD can also cause problems during pregnancy for you and your baby. Women with PCOD have higher chance of miscarriage and premature birth.
  • Abnormal Uterine bleeding: Abnormal uterine bleeding is bleeding from the uterus that is longer than usual. In addition, bleeding may be heavier or lighter than usual and occur often or randomly.

    Furthermore, PCOD (Polycystic Ovarian Disease) is one of the major cause of abnormal uterine bleeding in women. It causes hormonal imbalance in women which leads to irregular periods.
  • Endometrial cancer: Regular periods help to prevent excess thickening of inner lining of the uterus known as endometrium. However, PCOD delays the ovulation which leads to irregular periods. Further, not having regular periods may lead to abnormal cells building-up inside the womb.

    Women who have had absent or very irregular periods (fewer than 4 periods a year) have a higher risk of developing cancer of the womb lining (endometrial cancer).
  • Metabolic syndrome: It is a group of health issues including high blood pressure, high blood sugar and abnormal cholesterol level. Together, these factors are called metabolic syndrome and they increase your risk of heart disease, diabetes, and stroke.
  • Type 2 diabetes: Research suggests that people with PCOD have an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Because, PCOD cause insulin resistance in the body, which leads to type 2 diabetes. In other words, their bodies can make insulin but cannot use it effectively, increasing their risk for type 2 diabetes.

    More than half of women with PCOD develop type 2 diabetes by age 40. Therefore, proper monitoring and treatment by your doctor is very important.
  • Sleep Apnea: Women with PCOD, particularly when they are overweight, can be at an increased risk of developing sleep apnea. In this condition your upper airway is obstructed during sleep. This leads to repeated pauses in breathing during the night, which interrupt sleep.

    Furthermore, each episode of sleep apnea usually lasts between 10 and 30 seconds. In severe cases, sleep apnea can happen hundreds of times each night, disrupting the person’s ability to get a quality sleep.
  • Depression and Anxiety: Hormonal imbalance and unwanted hair growth due to PCOD, can negatively affect your emotions and confidence. Many women with PCOD end up experiencing depression and anxiety.

How is PCOD diagnosed?

To diagnose PCOD, your doctor will start by asking about your symptoms such as irregular periods, unwanted hair growth (on chest, face, chin and back), acne, weight gain and loss of hair from the scalp. Moreover, your doctor may also ask about your medical history, eating and drinking habits.

Apart from your symptoms, your doctor may recommend below mentioned different tests to diagnose PCOD:

  • A pelvic exam: Your doctor visually and manually inspects your reproductive organs for signs of extra male hormones (for example, an enlarged clitoris) and check to see if your ovaries are enlarged or swollen.
Pelvic Exam
Pelvic Exam
  • Ultrasound: This test is used to look at the size of the ovaries and see if they have cysts. The test can also look at the thickness of the lining of the uterus. For this, a device (transducer) is placed in your vagina. This device uses sound waves and computer screen to examine your ovaries for cysts.
Transvaginal Ultrasound
Transvaginal Ultrasound
  • Blood Tests: Your blood may be analyzed to measure the levels of Androgens Hormone (Male Hormones). Your doctor may also check your blood glucose levels and cholesterol levels.

Treatment of PCOD (Polycystic Ovarian Disease)

There is no specific medication to cure PCOD. However, the symptoms such as irregular periods, obesity, infertility, acne and hirsutism can be treated with proper treatment and lifestyle modifications.

Furthermore, the treatment for PCOD usually starts with lifestyle changes such as weight loss, diet plan and exercise. Please note, losing just 5 to 10 percent of your body weight can help regulate your menstrual cycle and improve your chances of getting pregnant. Moreover, losing weight may also help to improve your cholesterol levels, lower your blood glucose levels and help your hormones reach normal levels. Therefore, you must work out regularly and maintain a healthy lifestyle and diet. 

Medication is the next course of action, if the symptoms of PCOD do not improve. Your doctor may prescribe as following:

  • A combination birth control pill: This treatment includes taking oral contraceptives (birth control) pills which contain female hormones (Estrogen and Progestin) that reduce the production of the male hormones (androgen).

    The hormones in oral contraceptive may help as following:
    • Stabilize the menstrual cycle.
    • Manage symptoms such as acne and excess hair growth.
    • Reduce chances of endometrial cancer.

    However, research also suggests that oral contraceptives may contribute to severe PCOD symptoms and increase the risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart diseases, and blood clotting. Therefore, it is important that, oral contraceptives should be taken only after consulting your doctor.
  • Progestin therapy: Your doctor may advise you to take progestin for ten to fourteen days every month to stabilize and correct your periods and protect against endometrial cancer.
  • Treatment for immature follicles:
  • Laparoscopic ovarian drilling (LOD): It is a minor surgical procedure in which your doctor use laser to destroy the tissue that is producing male hormone (androgen) in the ovaries. This treatment corrects your hormone imbalance and can restore the normal functioning of your ovaries.

    However, Laparoscopic ovarian drilling (LOD) is not the first option of choice. Your doctor may adopt this procedure in extreme circumstances.

Difference between PCOD and PCOS?

Both PCOD and PCOS may sound similar enough, however, PCOS (Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome) is different from PCOD (Polycystic Ovarian Disease). Following are the difference between PCOD and PCOS.

  • PCOS is a hormonal disorder which cause the ovaries to produce excess amount of male hormone (androgens), as a result, ovaries stop releasing eggs. However, in PCOD, the ovaries start releasing abnormally high number immature eggs that lead to hormonal imbalance and swollen ovaries.
  • Women with PCOS struggle with infertility issues, making them hard to get pregnant. Further, if become pregnant, risks of miscarriage and premature birth is high in PCOS. However, in PCOD, woman still can conceive and become pregnant with minimal medical help.
  • In PCOS, periods are always delayed or stopped. However, in PCOD, periods may be regular or delayed.
  • In PCOS, women are at a higher risk of developing heart disease, diabetes, obesity and endometrial cancer. On the other hand, there are no such complications with PCOD.
  • PCOS is a serious medical condition and it cannot be cured completely. However, PCOD can be managed just by making lifestyle changes and medications as advised by the doctor.

Diet in PCOD

Consumption of well balanced food is one of the major keys in treating the symptoms of PCOD. Therefore, a few changes in eating ways as advised by your doctor can help to reduce health problems related to PCOD.

Further, if we talk about diet plan for PCOD, then there are certainly many do’s and dont’s.

Foods to Eat

  • Green Vegetables: Add Spinach, Broccoli, Kale, Lettuce, Cabbage and Endive (a leafy green looks like lettuce) in your diet as these are good source of vitamins and nutrients. Please note, green vegetables improves skin health and treat many other symptoms of PCOD.
  • Fruits: You may add below mentioned fruits in your diet as these are full of fiber, vitamins, antioxidants and low in sugar, which helps balancing hormones.

    • Red Grapes
    • Cherries
    • Strawberries
    • Blueberries
    • Blackberries
    • Apples
  • Whole Grains: Eat whole grains because these are the good source of energy and do not increase sugar levels in the body. For examples:

    • Barley
    • Buckwheat
    • Bulgur Wheat (Cracked Wheat)
    • Brown Rice
    • Whole-Grain
    • Rye
    • Whole-Grain Breads
  • Add Nuts and Seeds in diet: Below mentioned Nuts and seeds are beneficial in PCOD.

    • Almonds
    • Walnuts
    • Peanuts
    • Pistachios
    • Pecans
    • Chia seeds
    • Sesame seeds
    • Flaxseeds

    Further, these are excellent source of protein, iron, calcium, copper and magnesium.
  • Start eating Millets: Millets are ancient grains, also known as small crops. These are gluten free and good source of calcium, iron and protein, which helps improving symptoms of PCOD. Therefore, add millets in your diet such as:

    • Finger Millet
    • Pearl Millet
    • Kodo Millet
    • Foxtail millet

Foods to Avoid

  • Junk Food (Fast Food): These food products are full of unhealthy fats. Therefore, junk food is not good for women suffering from PCOD.

    The list of junk food items is long, however, a few examples are Hamburgers, French Fries and Pizza etc. Further, avoiding such eatables may help in improving PCOD.
  • Starchy Vegetables: You should avoid to eat starchy vegetables such as Sweet Potato, Peas, Corn and Squash in PCOD. Because, these vegetables are full of carbohydrates which cause a rise in your blood sugar levels and may lead to hormonal imbalance in the body.
  • Sugary Beverages (Soft Drinks): Researches have shown that consuming Sugar Rich Beverages may lead to weight gain and type 2 diabetes, as these are extremely high in sugar. Therefore, women with PCOD should avoid Sugary beverages such as:

    • Canned Juices
    • Sodas
    • Energy Drinks
    • Sports Drinks
    • Canned Smoothies

    However, you may consume Herbal Tea, low-sugar alternatives like Coconut Water, only after discussion with your doctor or dietitian.
  • Processed Food: Food products which are prepared by using the process of Baking, Freezing, Drying, Dehydrating, Mixing and Canning are know as processed foods. For example:

    • Packaged Food
    • Frozen Food
    • Canned Vegetables
    • Packaged Snacks
    • Breakfast Cereal
    • Soft Drinks etc.

    Furthermore, not all processed foods are unhealthy but some processed foods may contain Preservatives, Artificial Flavors, high levels of Salt, Sugars and Fats which may have harmful affects on your body. Therefore, processed food items should be avoided or limited in the your diet.

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