Three years ago, Shweta Lakhani, 25, (name changed) began to show signs of that pesky adolescent agony — acne. Her hair started falling, which she attributed to her thyroid problem.
But the acne refused to fade, despite medical creams and stabilising thyroid levels. After several futile visits to doctors and dermatologists, Lakhani finally approached a gynaecologist.
That’s when she was told she had polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) — a condition where small follicles or cysts develop on the ovaries, leading to irregular menses, weight gain, hirsutism (excessive facial and body hair), acne, hairfall and eventually, in some cases, infertility.
Incidentally, five of Lakhani’s friends, all below the age of 25, also have PCOS. Once a disorder afflicting mostly middle-aged and menopausal women, PCOS is now a disease of the young. The reasons — high stress and poor lifestyle choices — are characteristic of a generation on the fast track.
Internationally, one in 10 women suffers from PCOS. In India, experts estimate it to be one in five. And swapping personal PCOS stories has become as common as sharing gossip amongst 20-somethings today.
Financial consultant Dia Kochar (25), who was diagnosed with PCOS three years ago, as were four of her friends, says: “When I’m talking to girls my age about our health, the talk invariably turns to PCOS and we’re like ‘Oh, you have PCOS too? Join the club’.”
There is, in fact, an actual PCOS club in Mumbai now.
Gynaecworld, a Mumbai-based women’s health specialty centre, opened the country’s first PCOS club in January.
“The young girls diagnosed with PCOS are usually frightened out of their wits,” says Gynaecworld chairman Dr Duru Shah. “Either they don’t know what it is, or they are misinformed. I started the club to educate them and create awareness.”
Word of mouth is helping too as youngsters discuss symptoms, urge others to be tested and share tips on living with the syndrome.
“If any of my friends show PCOS symptoms, I push them to visit a gynecologist at once,” says Lakhani, who admits her irregular sleeping and eating habits probably brought on the disorder. “I also nag them to take better care of themselves.”
What is PCOs?
Every month, a healthy ovary produces a single egg or ovum and, when it is mature, releases it from its tiny follicle or sac. If left unfertilised, the ovum is purged from the body through the menstrual cycle.
A polycystic ovary produces many more ova than a healthy ovary (often over 12 a month), and most fail to mature.
The few that do mature are released, and purged through menstrual cycles that are therefore erratic.
Those that do not mature remain in their sacs, which accumulate as cysts in the ovary — thus the term polycystic ovaries.
These accumulating cysts lead to hormonal changes, raising testosterone levels. This is the main cause of some of the more visible symptoms, like male pattern facial hair and acne. Accumulating cysts can also, over the years, cause infertility.
Symptoms of PCO
1. Thinning of scalp hair and excessive hair loss
3. Hirsutism (excessive male pattern hair growth on the face and body)
4. Difficulty conceiving
5. Absent or irregular periods
6. Sudden weight gain
Causes of PCO
While the cause of PCOS is not known, genes are believed to be a key factor. PCOS is therefore more common among women with a family history of the disease; it is also common in women with high insulin levels or insulin-resistance.
Medical experts say the reason for the growing prevalence of PCOS is because women with a greater chance of developing the disease are unknowingly helping to trigger it.
The key triggers are lifestyle issues going unnoticed by young women — factors like inactivity, high stress levels, an unhealthy diet and irregular eating and sleeping hours.
If you think you have PCOS, consult a gnaecologist. Though there is no known cure, the disease can be managed, and many of the symptoms alleviated with medication and lifestyle changes.
Join the club
If you have PCOS, you can join Gynacworld’s PCOS Club by calling 23803965 or 23802584. Check out gynaecworld.com for more information.
Members of the PCOS Club get discounts on skin care, laser therapy, gym memberships, consultations with dieticians and gynaecological tests, in addition to counselling, monthly seminars and advice on controlling and monitoring the disease.