PCOS and weight gain
What is PCOS?
PCOS (Polycystic Ovary Syndrome) is a condition caused by imbalances in reproductive hormones and is found primarily in women in their childbearing years. The cause of PCOS is not clearly known, although it has been found that if you have a genetic disposition of PCOS, i.e, your mother or sister have PCOS, you might also have it. Two big causative factors that are implicated are genetics and androgen excess. Lifestyle factors such as diet and exercise may contribute to the symptoms of PCOS. It is also associated with problems caused by production of too much insulin by the body, thereby affecting the ability of the ovaries to ovulate.
The primary hormones responsible for PCOS are:
- Progesterone – If you have PCOS, insufficient quantities of this hormone in the body leads to irregular periods
- Insulin – With PCOS, the body has impaired reaction to insulin — the hormone that manages blood sugar.
- Androgen – Women with PCOS have higher levels of this masculinizing hormone.
How are PCOS and weight gain related?
Weight gain is a common problem for women dealing with PCOS. It is said that weight gain is not only a symptom but is also known to worsen PCOS.
Insulin is the hormone that pulls glucose from the bloodstream and converts it to energy. If you have PCOS, it gets more difficult for your body to use insulin, leading to insulin resistance. The body overproduces insulin to try to normalize blood sugar level. This inturn causes a buildup of sugar and insulin in the bloodstream and is a major contributing factor to obesity. The high insulin levels stimulate the production of androgens, i.e. male hormones also present in women. These male hormones trigger a weight gain characterized by fat deposit around the abdomen. That is why women with PCOS tend to have fat distribution around the abdomen. High blood sugar levels can put you at the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Buildup of abdominal fat is associated with cardiovascular diseases.
What are the risks associated?
Women who suffer from PCOS are at a high risk of developing problems arising from insulin resistance and weight gain. For eg:
Long term risks:-
- Endometrial cancer : Cancer in the endometrium,which is the innermost lining of the uterus that gets shed every month.
- Sleep apnea: Sleep apnea is a serious sleep disorder in which breathing is interrupted while a person is sleeping. This leads to a reduced supply of oxygen to the brain.
- Heart diseases- High insulin resistance is commonly associated with heart attack, stroke, and also other heart diseases such as coronary artery disease.
- High cholesterol
- High blood pressure
- Type 2 diabetes
Risks during pregnancy and childbirth:-
- Gestational Diabetes
- Premature birth of baby
- High Blood pressure during pregnancy
How do I know if I have PCOS?
PCOS is fairly common in women who have overweight bodies and who have a family history of PCOS. Common PCOS symptoms are easily missable. You may have any or most of these symptoms if you have PCOS.
If you doubt that you may have PCOS, we recommend speaking to a physician, obstetrician or gynaecologist.
There are 3 steps involved in a diagnosis process when you visit a physician.
- Physical examination – The physician will then check for any signs of obvious weight gain, acne, hirsutism (excess, unwanted hair growth etc), Acanthosis Nigricans(dark velvety patches in folds or creases of the body) and understands your symptoms and complaints.
- Lab tests or ultrasounds – Basis your discussion, the physician may recommend lab tests of hormones such as Estradiol(E2), Testosterone(Total-T), Follicle Stimulating Hormone(FSH), Luteinizing Hormone(LH) and Prolactin (PRL). Thyroid Stimulating Hormone(TSH) and Prolactin(PRL) levels are also checked because 1 in 5 patients have these abnormalities coexisting. They may also request an ultrasound to detect bulky ovaries or cysts in the ovaries. The choice of taking these tests and ultrasounds would rest solely on you.