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Having polycystic ovaries doesn’t mean you have PCOD. Here’s why

Published on:7 July 2020, 13:27pm IST
Many use the terms PCOD and PCO interchangeably without realizing that just because they both affect the ovaries doesn’t mean they’re the same.
Sonakshi Kohli
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Both are gynaecological issues involving your ovaries, yet they’re quite different. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

Can you ever imagine a pair of identical twins to also be exactly the same in their nature, tastes, and approach in life? No, right? 

Well, just like no two identical twins are the same, the two gynaecological conditions—PCO and PCOD—are not the same either. 

Surely, both involve an issue with your ovaries, but nope, they quite different from each other.

Firstly, what is PCOD?
According to Dr. Pranay Shah, gynaecologist and obstetrician at Bhatia Hospital in Mumbai, PCOD or polycystic ovarian disease (also called PCOS or polycystic ovarian syndrome) is a combination of a metabolic disorder as well as a hormonal imbalance in a woman’s body—due to her genetic history, a sedentary lifestyle or poor eating habits—which usually result in the formation of cysts in the ovaries of a woman or simply the appearance of certain features, even if the cysts are not visible in the ultrasound.

By “features”, we’re referring to menstrual disorders (scanty, infrequent periods, amenorrhoea or no menses, heavy periods) and the consequences of increased production of the male sex hormone called androgen (acne, male pattern baldness, alopecia, increased hair growth, a.k.a. hirsutism, dark patches on the nape of the neck, and occasionally voice heaviness).  

Wait, what’s PCO, then?
PCO or polycystic ovaries is a term used in the medical world to describe the condition where there are multiple follicles in the ovary of a woman instead of the normal few. 

These seeds are Mother Nature’s gift to heal the hormonal frenzy in your body. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

“In normal ovarian development, the ovary develops a cohort of follicles in the early phase (follicular phase) of menstruation. One or two of these follicles continue to grow, mature and ovulate in a bid to get fertilised by sperm for pregnancy. The rest of the follicles become atretic. In polycystic ovaries, instead of a few, many follicles grow which leads to the enlargement of the ovaries,” Dr. Shah explains. 

So what’s the difference between PCO and PCOD?
Basically, PCO can be a precursor to PCOD. Dr. Shah points out that both the conditions have dissimilar profiles but PCO could be a dormant form of PCOD and may flare-up later depending on other contributing factors such as genetic history as well as lifestyle.

Otherwise, the two conditions differ from each other in the following ways:

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1. Symptoms
“Most patients of PCO have no symptoms. Quite often, the polycystic appearance is transitory and the ovaries become normal after lifestyle changes (exercise, weight loss, diet). Hence, PCO patients usually need no treatment as such,” says Dr. Shah.

As for PCOD patients, he mentions that they can be faced with menstrual problems, difficulty in conceiving due to anovulation, increased acne and hair growth (hirsutism) and difficulty in losing weight.

2. Precautionary measures
According to Dr. Shah, a woman suffering from PCO needs to have a healthy lifestyle (good diet, exercise and maintain ideal body weight) in order to keep her situation from getting worse.

As for those with PCOD, a healthy lifestyle can help a great deal. However, if their case is severe, they might have to rely on insulin sensitizers to reduce the risk of metabolic syndrome (biochemical and physiological abnormalities associated with the development of cardiovascular disease and type-2 diabetes)

3. Line of treatment
Just like PCO, the first line of treatment for PCOD-affected women also involves correcting their unhealthy lifestyle habits and moving to healthy eating, regular exercise, and weight loss (for overweight women). Many times, they’re put on hormonal birth control pills to manage the symptoms of PCOD.

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As mentioned above, a severe PCOD case might even need the support of insulin sensitizers. Additionally, they can be prescribed various treatments to boost their fertility. Sometimes, if the doctors feel like there’s a probability of the cysts turning carcinogenic or if they’re growing too big, then they might recommend a cyst-removal surgery as well.

The final word
PCO or PCOD—both conditions can be prevented with a healthy lifestyle involving a regular workout regime, healthy eating habits, adequate sleep, and adequate water intake. So, make sure to follow these tips to keep these gynaecological conditions at bay.

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Sonakshi Kohli Sonakshi Kohli

Twenty kilos down and struggling to maintain the weight loss by preaching healthy eating, while eating unhealthy every now and then.