According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, one in ten women of childbearing age suffers from polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). That is around 5 million sufferers. The condition was only first recognized in 1935 when Stein and Leventhal published a study of seven women suffering from amenorrhea, hirsutism and polycystic ovaries. However, now it is the most common hormonal disorder affecting women. Alarmingly, Dr. Nidhi Sapolia, Specialist Obstetrician and Gynecologist at Medeor 24x7 Hospital, Dubai, says she sees an increased number of teenagers stricken with the disease.
“I had three teenage patients over a course of 10 days all suffering from PCOS. Two of the patients had to be treated with medication and one had to be treated surgically. Due to the sedentary lifestyle of our times and the added pressures on young girls nowadays, what was previously regarded as an illness that affected women is starting to affect teenagers,” the Doctor said. “There are some difficulties in diagnosing the disease in adolescent patients as the typical characteristics of puberty are similar to the symptoms of PCOS. For example, hyperinsulinemia is common among healthy adolescents and it is also a common sign of PCOS.”
A key symptom of PCOS is irregular menstrual periods or missed periods as in some instances the girl can stop ovulating. However, it also takes up to two years after the first period for the menstrual cycle to become regular. Also another sign of PCOS, acne, is commonly passed off as a teenage occurrence due to the hormonal changes that happen during puberty.
“Parents fail to recognize the symptoms as they confuse it with those of puberty. Some of the other signs of PCOS parents should look out for are heavy menstrual flow, unexplained weight gain or obesity, difficulty in maintaining a normal weight in spite of an active lifestyle, hirsutism or increased hair growth, thinning hair on the head, patches of dark, thickened skin on the neck, armpits or between the breasts and acne,” said Dr. Nidhi. “In order to diagnose an adolescent with PCOS, the first step is a physical exam followed by some general questions about the family’s health history. The next step is a series of blood tests to determine cholesterol, hormone and blood glucose levels and an ultrasound to check for the presence of cysts on the ovaries.”
In order to better treat the condition it is important for parents to understand the causes behind the disease. While obesity and a sedentary lifestyle play a huge role in causing the condition, the many pressures and stresses of everyday life can also adversely affect a teenager’s hormonal balance. In order to better treat the condition, it is important to address these issues.
“The first step in a treatment plan would be to put the patient on medication that contains doses of female hormones such as birth control pills and medication that will help the body use insulin more effectively if they are insulin resistant,” she said. “It is important for parents to also address the emotional effects of PCOS. In an age where teenagers are hooked on digital devices, the issue of body image becomes more relevant. They are conscious of the weight gain, acne and unwanted excess hair. In order to help with the weight gain and support your daughter it is advisable to put the whole family on a healthy meal plan and advise your children to make smarter decisions when they eat out. Do consult a dermatologist on treating acne and make sure your daughter understands that excess product use and make up can aggravate acne rather than treat it. For the excess hair growth, laser treatments can help or make hair removal salon visits a fun mother and daughter activity.”
“It is important to keep communication channels open and speak to your daughter’s school about having awareness sessions about the disease so that her peers too can be more accepting of PCOS and its unsavory effects,” Dr. Nidhi advised.
“We have seen an increase in lifestyle related diseases and especially with it affecting youngsters it is important to raise awareness on illnesses like Diabetes and PCOS so the future generations are better prepared to make smarter decisions on their health,” said Dr. Mohamed Berer, the Medical Director at Medeor 24x7 Hospital, Dubai.