Polycystic Ovary Syndrome
P.C.O.S is a metabolic disorder that can affect a woman’s hormonal levels which can affect their ability to conceive. It is believed to affect up to 10% of women and is the major cause of irregular cycles in women. P.C.O.S can often begin with the onset of menarche and remains undiagnosed until a woman tries to conceive. At the beginning of a women’s menstrual cycle, the egg matures in a fluid filled sac called a follicle when the egg matures the egg is released and travels down the fallopian tube. The process where the egg is released is called ovulation. This usually happens mid-cycle.
In women with P.C.O.S, the ovary doesn’t produce enough hormones to ensure the egg matures fully. The egg grows and the sac fills with fluid but isn’t released due to the lack of hormones. Instead, the fluid-filled sac can become a cyst’s and overtime these cysts can build upon the ovaries. These cysts can lead to the production of androgen hormones which can block ovulation from occurring.
The excess androgen can then cause increases of oestrogen circulating in the blood in comparison to progesterone which in turns increase the L.H and testosterone production. Some women may not realise there is anything wrong as ovulation predictor tests can indicate they are still ovulating as their L.H is elevated.
Causes of P.C.O.S
The cause of P.C.O.S is unknown but there maybe to be a genetic component suggesting women with a family history of P.C.O.S are more predisposed to this condition. The main cause is believed to be hormonal imbalances including the excess production of the male hormone androgen.
Recent research also suggests that insulin resistance could also be a cause of P.C.O.S. High levels of insulin can accumulate in the blood which in turn stimulate the ovaries and increase the level of androgens in the body. Androgens are a male hormone that females also produce. Excess androgens in the body affect egg production and causes problems with ovulation leading to irregular or anovulation. Women with P.C.O.S can also have diabetes or glucose intolerances.
Symptoms of P.C.O.S
- Absence or irregular periods – Periods are usually over 35 days in length.
- Absence of ovulation or irregular ovulation
- Heavy Periods
- Hirsutism –Increased body hair on face, chest, stomach
- Darker pigmentation in the armpit areas
- Propensity to being overweight or have difficulty losing weight
- Male pattern baldness – Hair can be thinning
If you notice you have a few of these symptoms it might be worthwhile getting yourself checked out as it if often when someone goes to conceive that they discover the problem. P.C.O.S can take a while to resolve and can be a frustrating time which can increase stress levels which can impact on conception.
Usually, a review of a person’s health through at detailed assessment will indicate the presence of P.C.O.S. This is confirmed through blood tests and an ultrasound. Blood tests will show excess testosterone and LH hormones in the body and an ultrasound will show ovaries with tiny cysts caused by half matured follicles.
- The contraceptive pill can be prescribed to regulate the cycle.
- Western medicine treatments can include the use of clomiphene and gonadotropin – drugs to stimulate ovulation if these fail then IVF and ART are often recommended.
- Treat diabetes using Glucophage medication.
- Weight loss and a change of diet can improve the chances of ovulation.
Traditional Chinese Medicine
In T.C.M, the underlying cause is believed to be kidney yang deficiency which in turn generates phlegm and dampness in the body. The Symptoms associated with this includes heaviness in the body including aches and pains, being overweight, menstrual blood containing mucus, greasy, swollen tongue. Acupuncture is a treatment that can be beneficial for women suffering from P.C.O.S. Research indicates that electro-acupuncture and physical exercise ‘each improves hyperandrogenism and menstrual frequency in women with PCOS more effectively than no active intervention, with low-frequency EA being superior to physical exercise’ (Cochrane, S. et al). Acupuncture can regulate the menstrual cycle, reduce the impact of stress on the body and restores the sympathetic nervous system into balance.
Treatment plan includes:
- Encourage lifestyle changes including weight loss, regular exercise and dietary changes to manage sugar intake.
- Focusing on regulating the menstrual cycle and promote ovulation
- Stress management
- Hormone re-balancing
- Support any medical interventions such as the use of clomiphene, gonadotrophin and metformin
Acupuncture is a treatment that can be beneficial for women suffering from P.C.O.S. Research indicates that electro-acupuncture and physical exercise ‘each improves hyperandrogenism and menstrual frequency in women with PCOS more effectively than no active intervention, with low-frequency EA being superior to physical exercise’ (Cochrane, S. et al). Acupuncture can regulate the menstrual cycle, reduce the impact of stress on the body and restores the sympathetic nervous system into balance.
As an acupuncturist, I’ve have treated P.C.O.S successfully finding that clients cycles have regulated within 3-4 cycles of treatment along with a change in lifestyle and diet. Along with working to treat P.C.O.S, acupuncture can relax the nervous system which supports the body to conceive.
Post by Pauline Mc Cormack
Disclaimer: Please note that this post is for information purposes only. I am not a medical doctor. This information at no point should be used in place of seeking official advice from a qualified medical doctor.
Cochrane, S. Smith, C. et al. 2014. ‘Acupuncture and women’s health: an overview of the role of acupuncture and its clinical management in women’s reproductive health’, Int J Womens Health 6: 313–325.
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3962314/ Retrieved 19/06/15
West Z., 2005.‘Zita West’s guide to getting pregnant’ London: Harper Thorson