Black Women and Polycystic Ovarian Syndrom (PCOS)
Medical Disclaimer: The information provided to our readers regarding these diseases is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. The information provided on this website is for general informational purposes only. We strongly encourage our readers to use this information only as a preliminary resource, and we disclaim any liability for the decisions made by anyone based on this information.
FACT: Black women are disproportionately affected by Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS). According to the NIH, approximately 5 million women of reproductive age in the United States are affected by this syndrome.
What is Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS)
Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) is a health disorder in which a woman’s hormones are out of balance. There may be one or more causes for the hormone level changes. PCOS is a common disease of the reproductive system that affects teenage girls and adult women. According to the NIH, approximately 5 million women of reproductive-age in the United States are affected by this syndrome. Most women with PCOS grow many small cysts on their ovaries. That is why it is called polycystic ovary syndrome.
For reasons that are not well understood, hormones become out of balance in women with PCOS. One hormone change triggers another, which changes another. PCOS is linked to changes in the level of certain hormones in your body: estrogen and progesterone, the female hormones that help a woman's ovaries release eggs, and androgen, a male hormone found in small amounts in females.
Black women are disproportionately affected by PCOS. This can be attributed to obesity and overall poor access to health care as well as other social determinants of health.
If you are affected by this disorder, it is common for you to have a mother or sister who also suffer from PCOS or with similar symptoms. PCOS seems to run in families, so your chances of having it are greater if other women in your family have PCOS, irregular periods, or diabetes. PCOS can be passed down from either the mother's or father's side.
Diagnosis of PCOS
To diagnose PCOS, your doctor should ask about past health, symptoms, and menstrual cycles. A doctor will then:
- Perform physical exam to look for signs of PCOS
- Look for extra body hair and high blood pressure
- Check your height and weight for a healthy body mass index (BMI)
- Do a number of lab tests to check blood sugar, insulin, and other hormone levels. Hormone tests can help rule out thyroid or other gland problems that could cause similar symptoms.
- Pelvic ultrasound to look for cysts on ovaries: Doctors may be able to tell that a woman has PCOS without an ultrasound but it helps rule out other health problems.
Early diagnosis and treatment are crucial to avoid and reduce long-term complications, such as diabetes and heart disease. Treatment can reduce unpleasant symptoms and help prevent long-term health problems. Keep in mind that you cannot use certain medications if you are trying to get pregnant.
- Regular exercise and stress reduction: such as moderate activity on a regular basis such as walking, yoga, meditation, or acupuncture are highly advisable. Often, if you have PCOS you can benefit from losing weight. Even losing 10 lbs may help get the hormones in balance and regulate menstrual cycle. PCOS can make it hard to lose weight, so professional help might be important.
- Smoking Cessation: If you smoke, you may have higher androgen levels that may contribute to PCOS symptoms. Smoking also increases the risk for heart disease
- Nutrition: You should aim at eating a heart-healthy diet with lots of vegetables, fruits, nuts, beans, and whole grains. Limits foods that are high in saturated fat, such as meats, cheeses, and fried foods. Eating healthy foods and weight control are among the key treatments for PCOS
- Oral Contraceptives: Your doctor may prescribe you birth control pills that can help regulate periods and reduce symptoms such as excess facial hair and acne.
- Androgen-lowering medication: Also known as spironolactone, these can be used with birth control pills to help reduce symptoms.
Symptoms of Ovarian Cancer:
Symptoms tend to be mild at first. A woman may have only a few symptoms or a lot of them. The most common symptoms that you may have are:
- Weight gain/trouble losing weight, obesity seems to worsen this condition
- Extra facial hair on the face/body, thicker and darker facial hair, hair on the chest, belly, and back. This condition is called hirsutism
- Hyperpygmentation from removal of facial/neck hair
- Thinning hair on the scalp
- Irregular period: If you have PCOS, it is common for you to have fewer than nine periods a year. Some women have no periods. Others have very heavy bleeding.
- Your body may have a problem using insulin, which could lead to insulin resistance or diabetes.
The mission of PCOS Challenge is to “raise public awareness about PCOS and help girls and women with the condition overcome their symptoms and reduce their risk for life-threatening related diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer.” The organization was founded by Sasha Ottey, Researcher and Clinical Microbiologist, because she recognized that PCOS is severely under-diagnosed and PCOS research is severely underfunded. The organization has a TV series, a podcast and a magazine to increase awareness surrounding PCOS.
PCOS AWARENESS ASSOCIATION
The mission of the PCOS Awareness association is to “PCOS Awareness Association is a non-profit organization dedicated to the advocacy of polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). The organization and its volunteers are dedicated to raising the awareness of this disorder worldwide, providing educational and support services to help people understand what the disorder is and how it can be treated. The Association also provides support for people diagnosed with PCOS to help them overcome the syndrome and decrease the impact of its associated health problems.” They have an online support forum called MyPCOSTeam.