PCOS prevalence on the rise in India, affecting women of reproductive age
Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a hormonal disorder that affects women of reproductive age and is associated with a range of symptoms. The exact root causes of the condition are not known but it arises when the ovaries produce an excess of androgens, or male sex hormones, typically found in smaller amounts in women. Doctors who spoke to ThePrint claimed that the prevalence of PCOS in India seems to be increasing. “The incidence of PCOS is 10 percent or more in India and it is growing, depending on which criteria are used,” said Dr Mahesh Chavan, consultant endocrinologist with the Apollo Hospitals in Navi Mumbai.
Growing health issue in India
The number of women seeking medical help for PCOS symptoms is increasing, according to Dr Gayatri Deshpande, a senior consultant in obstetrics and gynaecology at Max Nanavati Super-speciality Hospital in Mumbai. “Approximately 25 to 30 percent of my patients are diagnosed with PCOS. On average, I see at least three to four new women with complaints of the condition every day,” she said. “The condition is common among women of reproductive age and most of them complain of irregular periods, excessive hair growth, acne, and weight gain or difficulty losing weight,” Deshpande added. “Some women also experience thinning hair, dark patches on the skin, and the development of skin tags.”
What are the risk factors?
The apparent increase in the incidence of PCOS could be linked to lifestyle factors such as sedentary behaviour, unhealthy dietary patterns, and stress, said several medical experts who spoke to ThePrint, including Chavan. Indeed, such factors are likely to be the main culprit, according to Dr Duru Shah, founder-president of the PCOS Society of India, and director, Gynaecworld – The Center for Women’s Health and Fertility in Mumbai. “Only 5-10 percent cases of PCOS are genetically transmitted from mother to her daughter,” Shah said. “The majority of the disease is due to epigenetic changes such as imbalance of hormones, which have not been corrected, exposure to various environmental pollutants, and obesity.”
Stress and PCOS
Stress plays a role in disrupting hormone balances, potentially influencing the development of PCOS. While the link between stress and PCOS is still being studied, some research suggests an association, including a 2018 study by Indian researchers published in the peer-reviewed Journal of Human Reproductive Sciences. Additionally, women with PCOS may also have a higher risk of developing stress disorders. Dr Trideep Choudhury, a consultant psychiatrist at Fortis Flt Lt Rajan Dhall Hospital in Delhi, emphasised the importance of addressing mental health issues in patients with PCOS.
Advances in treatments
Management of PCOS symptoms and correction of underlying hormonal imbalances are the main goals of treatment, according to Dr Rashmi Baliyan, a consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist at Primus Super Speciality Hospital in Delhi. Traditional methods of treatment include adopting a balanced diet, engaging in regular exercise, and making lifestyle changes such as weight loss, she said. Depending on specific symptoms, medications may also be prescribed, including oral contraceptives, anti-androgens, and insulin sensitisers. A patient’s age is also a factor in the treatment regimen prescribed to them, added Dr Parimala Devi, senior consultant, obstetrics & gynaecology, at Fortis hospital in Bengaluru.
Newer treatments available
Studies on newer glucose-lowering agents like glucagon-like peptide-1 receptor analogues (GLP-1RA), including drugs like exenatide and liraglutide, have shown promising results in the treatment of obese women with PCOS. Dr Bhagya Laksmi S said that these agents have demonstrated a reduction in weight, improvement in insulin resistance, and restoration of menstrual cycles. While PCOS is not curable, the treatment goals focus on reducing clinical hyperandrogenism, managing menstrual irregularities, preventing endometrial hyperplasia and cancer, achieving ovulation for those seeking pregnancy, and addressing long-term metabolic issues.