Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) affects millions of Southern African women: Here’s what you need to know

A staggering number of Southern African women, up to 8 million, are affected by Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS), a complex hormonal disorder that often remains undiagnosed and misunderstood. In light of this, PCOS Awareness Month takes center stage, aiming to shed light on the condition, empower women with information, and eliminate the stigma surrounding it.

Despite its prevalence, PCOS remains a largely unspoken topic. Recognising the urgency of addressing this issue, renowned medical professional, health advocate, and Kotex® Brand Ambassador, Dr Nosipho Danielle Mhlanga, emphasizes the importance of education in managing PCOS. Dr Mhlanga stresses, “PCOS can lead to complications like infertility. Yet, a significant number of affected women remain undiagnosed. By educating women about PCOS and its effects, we can eliminate the stigma and address the associated mental health challenges.”

In collaboration with Dr Nosipho, Kotex® is taking a proactive step by providing an overview of PCOS, enabling South Africans to understand the condition better and identify associated symptoms.

Understanding PCOS:
PCOS is a multifactorial hormonal disorder affecting individuals with ovaries, primarily during their reproductive years. Although its precise cause remains unclear, genetics, hormones, and environment play roles in its development. PCOS manifests diversely in different individuals and is diagnosed based on clinical symptoms, hormonal tests, and imaging.

PCOS is also a heterogeneous disorder, meaning that it can manifest differently in different individuals. Diagnosis of PCOS is typically based on a combination of clinical symptoms, hormonal testing, and imaging (such as ultrasound to identify ovarian cysts).

Key PCOS Symptoms
PCOS symptoms vary in type and severity, and not all individuals experience the same set of indicators. They may include:

  1. Irregular or absent menstrual cycles: PCOS can cause unpredictable or infrequent periods, stemming from disrupted ovulation, potentially leading to fertility challenges.
  1. Elevated androgens (male hormones): Excessive androgens can result in acne, oily skin, and increased facial or body hair growth. Hair thinning or loss on the scalp can also occur.
  1. Abdominal weight gain or obesity: Weight gain around the abdomen worsens hormonal imbalances and insulin resistance, common in PCOS cases.

How PCOS is diagnosed
Diagnosis involves clinical evaluation, medical history, physical examination, and specific tests. The Rotterdam Consensus criteria (2003) require meeting two of three criteria: ovulatory dysfunction, clinical or biochemical hyperandrogenism signs, and small ovarian cysts visible via ultrasound.

When to seek medical help
Dr Nosipho encourages women to seek medical assistance if they suspect PCOS based on symptoms. Treatment methods include lifestyle changes, exercise, contraceptives, anti-androgen medications, and hormone-based therapies. In vitro fertilization (IVF) is an option for fertility issues. Early diagnosis and management improve quality of life.

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