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Welcome to the cysterhood.

Summary: One women in 10 suffers from polycystic ovarian syndrome -- a common endocrine disorder

Dona Cherian

Dubai: "I am a Muslim cyster" declares health blogger Chelsea on - an American-Muslim woman in her mid-twenties. The post published last year has garnered quite a few comments from the 'cyster' community online but for many others the statement might be confusing.

Women diagnosed with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) call themselves 'cysters', in reference to the numerous cysts found in their ovaries.

Chelsea writes about how, at 24, she was diagnosed with polycystic ovarian syndrome - a common endocrine disorder, affecting one in every ten women globally.

For women like Chelsea, ovarian follicles produce eggs or ovum that do not mature fully as in a normal cycle - resulting in benign cysts. The ovaries also produce excessive amounts of androgens (male hormones) which further block ovulation.

Given how common the disorder is, the lack of awareness about PCOS is absurd.

According to a UAE-based research conducted by Aster DM Healthcare, only 52 per cent of UAE residents were familiar with PCOS. September has been promoted as the PCOS Awareness month by leading health care organisations to create discussions about the condition.

The most common symptom of PCOS is irregular menstruation. However, periods can be irregular or even absent for girls in their teens which is why many mothers and doctors disregard such patterns. In her blog, Chelsea shares that despite having consulted doctors repeatedly when she was younger about her irregular periods, she was not tested further and was prescribed birth-control pills (which are commonly used to regulate periods).

Speaking to Gulf News, Dr Ann Mini Mathew, Specialist Obstetrics and Gynaecologist at Aster Hospital said: "Most women hesitate to consult a doctor about their irregular periods. A woman who doesn't have periods within a gap of 28 to 35 days is irregular and should ideally menstruate at least eight times in a year [before menopause]."

Other PCOS symptoms include male-pattern hair growth, sudden weight gain and difficulty to lose weight, sleep apnoea, acne, oily skin, pigmentation and pelvic pain. Women can experience one, some or all of these symptoms and there is no consistency from person to person.

Gulf News spoke to Helena, a 25-year old from India, who was diagnosed with PCOS when she was 19. Her periods were regular but she decided to consult her doctor because of sudden and continuous weight gain despite having no changes in her diet or physical activity.

Tara, a 27-year old UAE expat, was diagnosed with PCOS at the age of 20. She had periods only once every five to six months and found pigmentation marks on her neck which was when she consulted her doctor. Though weight-gain is common for PCOS patients, Tara never had this issue. This inconsistency of symptoms is a major reason for incorrect or under-diagnosis.

The root cause of PCOS has not be found yet but genetics play a huge role.

According to research by Aster DM Healthcare, 50 per cent of mothers who suffer from PCOS are likely to pass it on to their daughters. Helena told Gulf News that her mother and elder sister also have the same disorder.

The over production of androgens (male hormones) in the female body due to insulin resistance can be a contributing factor in some cases. Bad lifestyle and diet choices also contribute to the condition.

One of the most common effects of PCOS is the inability for women of the child-bearing age (18 to 44) to conceive.

According to Dr Hena Firoza Kalam, Specialist Obstetrics and Gynaecology at Medcare Women and Children Hospital, some women are diagnosed with PCOS after delivering even up to four children, revealing that infertility is not common to all PCOS patients. Other major health complications include abnormal uterine bleeding, anxiety and depression, cardiac issues, high cholesterol and endometrial cancer.

The risk of endometrial cancer is proven to be two to three times higher for women suffering from PCOS than others.

"Due to lack of proper ovulation and menstruation in PCOS patients, the lining of the uterus thickens over time, increasing the risk of endometrial cancer. It is necessary for them to have at least one period in three months so as to reduce the thickened uterine lining. This can significantly reduce the risk of this cancer", Dr Kalam told Gulf News.

Inducing ovulation through medicines is used to assist PCOS patients struggling to conceive. Lifestyle and dietary changes also increase a women's chances of ovulation. "Losing just 5 to 10 per cent of body fat can get a woman's ovulation process on track", Dr Kalam told Gulf News. For women who want to regulate their periods and treat symptoms such as acne and male pattern facial hair, doctors prescribe hormonal medicines to induce menstruation. These also lower the level of male hormones in the body.

Ayurveda, the ancient Indian branch of medicine, is becoming a popular alternative treatment option for women who do not want hormonal intervention. Tara, an Indian UAE-expat with PCOS, opted for Ayurvedic treatment along with diet and lifestyle changes. Now after 6 years, one of her ovaries have no cysts and the cysts in the other one have reduced considerably.

PCOS has no permanent cure but with medicines and a healthy lifestyle women can definitely lead a productive and normal life.

What is it?

PCOS is a condition resulting from an imbalance of oestrogen and progesterone in a woman's body. Ovarian follicles produce eggs or ovum but they do not mature fully or correctly as in a normal cycle - resulting in benign cysts being formed. The ovaries also produce excessive amounts of androgens (male hormones) which further block ovulation.


No definite underlying causes have been discovered but genetics have proven to be a major factor. Insulin resistance, unhealthy lifestyle and diet choices can contribute to the condition.


Infertility is the most common complication arising due to the lack of ovulation in PCOS patients. Abnormal uterine bleeding, multiple miscarriages, anxiety and depression, cardiac issues, increased risk of Type-2 diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, obesity and physical changes are other complications that may arise. Risk of endometrial cancer is three times higher for women with PCOS than others.


Irregularity in periods is a major indication of PCOS along with other symptoms such as sudden weight gain, male-pattern hair growth, acne, oily skin, pigmentation, pelvic pain, sleep apnoea and male-pattern hair loss. These are highly inconsistent from person to person but self-monitoring can help in early diagnosis and treatment.


PCOS has no permanent cure but symptoms can be treated and managed with medicines, lifestyle changes and healthy diets. Menstruation and ovulation can be induced to increase fertility and control effects of hormonal imbalance in the body.

Worldwide awareness and participation

On social media this year, the hashtag #LemonFaceChallenge is being used to bring together individuals and organisations to spread awareness about PCOS. Supporters take selfies biting into a lemon and then upload with the hashtag challenging friends to participate and donate to the cause. There are also countless 'cyster' support groups online that serve as forums for women to discuss symptoms, weight-loss, medicines and other topics. Victoria Beckham, Jillian Michaels, Emma Thompson and Jools Oliver are a few celebrities who have publicly shared issues they faced due to PCOS.

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Publication:Gulf News (United Arab Emirates)
Geographic Code:7UNIT
Date:Sep 28, 2016
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