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Polycystic Ovary Syndrome

by Mary Martin(more info)

listed in women's health, originally published in issue 146 - April 2008

Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) is a complex condition that affects about one in 10 women in the UK. Symptoms include irregular or absent periods, ovulation problems and infertility. There can be excess body hair (hirsutism), thinning scalp hair, acne, obesity or being overweight.

Women with polycystic ovaries do not necessarily experience any problems. However, if they also have high levels of testosterone and luteinising hormones and irregular or absent periods, they are likely to have this syndrome.

It is also possible to have this condition although the ovaries are not polycystic. Medical tests can determine whether the syndrome is influenced purely by a hormone imbalance and not related to the ovaries.

Polycystic Ovaries

The ovaries are enlarged, with many tiny follicles (cysts) under the surface. These follicles have not matured sufficiently to release an egg. Instead they build up to form small cysts. Only one ovary may be affected.

Apart from producing the female hormones, oestrogen and progesterone, the ovaries normally produce small amounts of the male hormone testosterone. With PCOS abnormally high levels of testosterone are produced, resulting in an increase in body hair. An imbalance of testosterone also accounts for facial acne.

About four in 10 women with PCOS are overweight. Weight gain can be a symptom of insulin resistance. It means that body cells are resistant to normal levels of insulin, resulting in higher levels of insulin in the bloodstream. Because blood sugar is not dealt with in the normal way, it is stored as fat. Any of these symptoms are likely to cause low self-esteem or depression.

What Causes PCOS?

Several factors contribute to this condition.

  • High levels of insulin in the bloodstream cause the production of too much testosterone. This interferes with normal development of follicles;
  • Luteinising hormone (LH) promotes maturing of the follicle and ovulation. LH promotes formation of the corpus luteum which secretes progesterone. Women with PCOS have raised levels of LH;
  • This condition is more likely where there is a family history of PCOS or type 2 diabetes;
  • Women are more at risk if they are obese. Being overweight makes insulin resistance worse.

Medical Treatment

  • Tests can detect abnormal levels of hormones;
  • An ultrasound scan can determine whether ovaries are enlarged or polycystic;
  • Drugs can control the symptoms of PCOS;
  • The drug metformin reduces insulin resistance;
  • There are drugs to stimulate ovulation and increase fertility.

Self Help

Women with PCOS have a greater risk of developing diabetes. Maintaining a healthy weight, a suitable diet and exercise, can lessen the risk of diabetes and long-term complications.

Reflexology

During my 25 years in practice I have found reflexology to be effective in alleviating menstrual problems. PCOS invariably requires an integrated approach. Infertility is particularly stressful for patients to cope with. Several women have conceived after one course of fertility treatment. They received a course of reflexology beforehand. Reflexology can reduce stress levels and improve homeostatic function. It also provides psychological support through a holistic approach.

Sonal’s Case

Sonal is a thirty year old senior healthcare professional. She has an exacting and responsible job. Reflexology helps reduce her stress levels. It has also helped alleviate a painful back injury. Initially she sought my help for sinusitis, caused by a deviated septum. These symptoms were also alleviated. However, Sonal also has a difficult problem – PCOS.

From 15 years of age Sonal experienced period problems. At aged 18 she was prescribed a contraceptive drug to regulate her periods. These were every six-eight weeks and heavy and painful. She stopped taking this drug when she was 20. At the age of 24 she took another contraceptive drug – marvelon. Unfortunately she gained weight and experienced fluid retention. She said that her eyes became very dry and her vision seemed somewhat impaired. She took this drug for two months. Subsequently a scan revealed PCOS. Pity it took so long!

When Sonal consulted me her periods were every six-eight weeks and were heavy and painful. She had not taken any treatment for this since she was 24 years old. Although her grandmother has type 2 diabetes, there is no family history of PCOS.

By her 3rd weekly reflexology treatment she had none of the usual bloating and breast tenderness prior to a period. Subsequently she rang me and was excited that her period arrived 10 days early – free from the usual symptoms.

Later on, reflexology sessions were spread out to monthly. During the past year, for 90 per cent of the time, her periods have been every 28 days. Where this differs by a few days, it coincides with a particularly stressful time. Sonal now wants to start a family. I am optimistic of a happy outcome in this case.

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About Mary Martin

A qualified teacher, Mary Martin established her School of Reflexology in 1987. She founded the Association of Reflexologists in 1984 and is an Honorary Life Member. Previously she practised as a Gerson therapist. Mary belongs to a network of therapists attached to the cancer centre at Mount Vernon Hospital. She has had a busy practice in Ruislip since 1983. She may be contacted on Tel: 01895 635621;  mary.martin36@btinternet.com

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