There is a lack of awareness about Polycystic Ovary Syndrome in India, making its identification and treatment difficult.
PCOS often prolongs for a lifetime and leads to both physical and mental health issues among women.
September is the Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) Awareness Month, a condition causing hormonal imbalance among women of reproductive age, leading to irregular menstrual cycles, hirsutism (excess facial and body hair), weight gain, and insulin resistance, and hair loss.
In India, one in five (20%) Indian women suffer from this disorder.
This condition disrupts the ovulation process, leading to cysts (tiny fluid-filled sacs) in the ovaries.
PCOS can have severe health impacts If not monitored in time.
According to Gynaecologist Dr Duru Shah, founder of the PCOS Society of India, PCOS may lead to infertility, risk of miscarriages and more related problems in the older age group.
There is nearly a 40% chance that a female child may develop PCOS if the mother has it, he further adds.
Women with PCOS are relatively prone to develop diabetes, high blood pressure, and other health complications.
Gynaecologists point out that though PCOS prolongs for a lifetime, it is manageable with proper measures.
Aside from medications for regulating the menstrual cycle, they suggest lifestyle changes such as a healthy diet including low carbohydrates, high protein and daily physical exercise for maintaining ideal weight.
However, focus on physical symptoms have overshadowed the long-term mental health effects women suffer due to PCOS.
The syndrome often gets accompanied by various mental health implications: depression, anxiety and fluctuating mood.
Weight gain and the inability to lose it becomes the dominant concern. Factors like the importance of sleep, stress management, and supplementation are equally significant to consider while healing from this condition.
They are rarely discussed and not even associated with PCOS amongst women in India.
There are also a lot of complications around identifying and seeking treatment for PCOS.
Though the incidence of PCOS has been increasing every year, experts point out most women often ignore common symptoms of PCOS.
It is only when they face trouble conceiving that they reach out to a doctor.
Many women may not even come forward due to the association of PCOS with infertility which further leads to its stigmatization.
In India, social taboos have reduced the space for meaningful discourse in the past few decades.
People living with PCOS often fear being ostracised and secluded, and social institutions such as marriage may not provide these women with a safe space to communicate their issues.
The lack of awareness around PCOS also makes it hard to access relevant resources.
Impact of COVID-19
Founder of a digital health clinic for women, Achitha Jacob, calls the pandemic’s impact on women’s health “a double-edged sword”.
As the pandemic strained the already limited access to PCOS treatment services, a recent study also included PCOS (Polycystic ovary syndrome) in the risk factors of Covid-19.
The report said that the women suffering from this hormonal condition are 50 per cent more likely to catch COVID-19.
However, the pandemic has pushed for introspection over lifestyle habits and how they contribute to health, Achitha further adds.
“I find that women are proactively seeking care and are more vocal about their relationship with their doctors.”
Finding A sense of community
This growing dialogue has found a lot of room on social media this year. The hashtags #PCOSIndia, #PCOSIndianDiet, #PCOSIndiaAwareness have hundreds of posts each.
Despite the fact these platforms are littered with pseudo counsellors, many people have found genuine communities helping them with guidance and giving them a meaningful space to share their experiences.
A Mumbai-based club is also spearheading India’s first PCOS Summit on September 18 and 19.
This virtual summit will comprise workshops and interactive seminars with doctors and holistic experts to take this conversation forward.
PCOS Club India (@pcosclubindia) was founded by Nidhi Singh in 2019 while working for Deloitte. It has 38,000 members and a strong following of 33,500 people on Instagram.