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Can you be skinny and have PCOS? The answer to this question is yes! Of course, you can be underweight, and yet have the condition.This type of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is known as lean PCOS. For the unversed, polycystic ovary syndrome is a common hormonal disorder that causes multiple cysts in your ovaries. This condition affects women who are in their childbearing years, anywhere between 15-45 years of age.
More often than not, PCOS is associated with overweight women. However, the cases of lean PCOS are continuously increasing. Why is that so?
Dr Sneha Sathe, Fertility Consultant, Nova IVF Fertility, Mumbai, explains, “Most women with PCOS have difficulty managing their weight. There is a tendency to gain weight easily and weight loss is difficult. Some women with PCOS maintain a normal weight (lean PCOS); but they still face fertility challenges, increased androgens, and an increased risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease.”
Along with that, irregular periods, lack of ovulation or late ovulation, increased facial hair, problems in conceiving, insulin resistance, anxiety, and acne, are some of the symptoms both kinds of patients go through.
Lean in this case refers to a healthy BMI or body mass index. The healthy BMI ranges from 18 to 24.9. Women with lean PCOS have a healthy BMI, unlike women who are overweight with PCOS.
Most women think that obesity and PCOS have many elements in common. However, one out of three women with PCOS are not overweight or obese, shares Dr Sathe with HealthShots, In spite of having a normal BMI, women with lean PCOS may struggle with irregular periods, fertility problems, blood sugar control, and other symptoms like acne and oily skin. So, it is just another misconception that women with PCOS are overweight.
But “lean” doesn’t mean better. In fact, having lean PCOS can make it harder to get diagnosed, even though it causes many of the same long-term health complications as other types of PCOS. So if you have an irregular period and are wondering if you could have PCOS despite a BMI within a healthy range, know that it’s possible.
A significant challenge with PCOS is that, for most of us, our body is resistant to insulin. Dr Sathe says, “Insulin is a hormone which is produced by the pancreas. It helps convert sugar and starch (from the food we eat) into energy. PCOS makes it more difficult for the body to use the hormone insulin (referred to as insulin resistance). As a result of this unconverted sugar, the pancreas produces more insulin, in order to try and maintain normal sugar levels. High amounts of insulin can trigger and accelerate the production of the male hormones (androgens), which can lead to weight gain and many other symptoms of PCOS.”
Not only this, women with PCOS are at a high risk of developing many of the problems associated with weight gain and insulin resistance like diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol, and heart disease.
Women with PCOS often find it hard to conceive naturally. The hormonal imbalance prevents the regular cyclical development and release of a mature egg (anovulatory infertility). However, having PCOS does not mean that pregnancy is impossible. PCOS is one of the most common treatable causes of infertility, says Dr Sathe.
A healthy diet and regular exercise can help regularise the menstrual cycle and improve fertility. So, stay in touch with your doctor and follow their advice to manage your condition.
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