An Australian doctor is urging women to remain alert for symptoms of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), a hormonal condition impacting one in 10 Australian women but goes undiagnosed in 70 per cent, which can lead to serious health issues and infertility.
Dr Andrew Thompson says raised awareness and easier access to PCOS testing will enable women to identify the condition before it presents serious health impacts, and shares his tips to manage the symptoms for better quality of life.
Dr Thompson is a registered doctor at InstantScripts, a leading telehealth and online prescription service that has helped more than 400,000 Australians access affordable, qualified healthcare and everyday medicines.
InstantScripts has now launched a digital PCOS referral, allowing women experiencing common symptoms of PCOS to easily access a pathology test to determine a swift, and potentially early, diagnosis.
Dr Thompson says many Australians likely delayed health checks during the pandemic and, with more than 70 per cent of PCOS cases remaining undiagnosed, he believes it is more important than ever for women to be aware of the common symptoms of PCOS and seek a test and consultation with a health professional.
Dr Thompson says: “While common, PCOS largely goes undiagnosed, and while women with PCOS don’t necessarily have a higher mortality rate, they are at an increased risk of developing more serious conditions later in life, such as type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and endometrial cancer. PCOS can occur when women produce higher levels of male hormones in their ovaries. This can impact their menstrual cycle, fertility, and result in enlarged ovaries and cysts on the ovaries. While most women are diagnosed in their 20s and 30s, or when they find they have issues getting pregnant, PCOS can develop at any age after puberty.
“I urge women experiencing two or more of the common symptoms of PCOS, such as irregular periods, thinning hair or excess hair, weight gain or acne, to seek a test for the condition. For those already living with PCOS, it is important to have regular health checks with a doctor. Due to an increased risk of developing serious health conditions, and to manage the condition more effectively, women should seek tests for cholesterol levels and diabetes annually, along with a blood pressure check.”
The new InstantScripts PCOS test involves a short digital referral for a blood test to check hormone levels, including testosterone, as well as cholesterol and glucose levels. The referral asks individuals to identify whether they are experiencing any of the symptoms of PCOS and whether they are taking the contraceptive pill, which Dr Thompson says can often mask or keep some symptoms at bay. Patients can quickly obtain a pathology request through the platform for $20, which is sent to an InstantScripts doctor for approval, before being emailed directly to the patient. An InstantScripts doctor will request a telehealth consultation to discuss the patient’s results and any next steps.
Dr Thompson adds: “The availability of such referral tests is incredibly important for women, particularly if they don’t have a regular doctor or are time poor. Telehealth services such as ours also offer other women’s health tests, such as fertility tests, STI screens, and tests for hair loss and fatigue.”
Tips to identify and manage polycystic ovary syndrome
Below, Dr Thompson shares his tips to help patients effectively manage the symptoms of PCOS to allow them to maintain a high quality of life.
- Implement a management plan with your doctor. Dr Thompson says an important first step after a PCOS diagnosis is a visit to a doctor to implement a management plan. “This could include medical therapies to manage certain symptoms, such as the contraceptive pill to combat problems with menstruation, acne and excess hair. PCOS can also take a mental as much as a physical toll, and sometimes antidepressants or anti-anxiety drugs may also be prescribed.” For those who don’t have a regular doctor, telehealth services such as InstantScripts can provide continuity of care and recommend strategies to manage PCOS symptoms, from weight and diet, down to medical and talking therapies. Seeking additional support from a range of health professionals, who may be better equipped to manage certain symptoms, is also important. This could include a dermatologist to combat acne or excess hair, a fertility specialist or gynaecologist, a psychologist for mental health support, an exercise specialist, or an endocrinologist.
- Establish a healthy lifestyle. Maintaining a healthy diet is important, particularly because PCOS increases one’s risk of developing type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Dr Thompson says, “Maintaining a balanced, nutrient-rich diet can help reduce the severity of symptoms. It is important to be particularly mindful of cholesterol levels and reduce processed foods, alcohol intake and avoid smoking, while increasing intake of foods rich in iron and protein.” Dr Thompson says a consistent sleep routine is also necessary. Those struggling to maintain a healthy diet or sleep well can seek advice from a sleep specialist or dietitian for additional support.
- Consider natural therapies. Natural remedies can be impactful in not only managing symptoms but also to help improve general wellbeing. Herbal medicines, teas and supplements can reduce symptoms and address vitamin deficiencies. “Vitamin D, calcium, omega-3 supplements and magnesium can be helpful. Low magnesium levels can be linked to diabetes, along with chromium, a mineral that regulates insulin and blood sugar levels in the body.” However, Dr Thompson warns that natural therapies won’t work for everyone and advises PCOS sufferers to speak to a doctor first. “Just as consultation is important before starting medical therapies, the same can be said for natural therapies. It is important to be aware of possible side effects and ensure natural remedies are used safely to help avoid potentially exacerbating symptoms or compromising one’s health.”
- Maintain a regular exercise routine. Dr Thompson believes maintaining a consistent exercise routine and weight is important, even for those not experiencing weight gain as a PCOS symptom. “Regular physical activity can vastly improve our physical and mental health. Whether it’s losing weight or maintaining a consistent weight, exercise can help regulate menstrual cycles and even reduce the risk of diabetes and heart disease associated with PCOS.”
- Keep stress and anxiety at bay. Dr Thompson says it is important for women to combat stress and anxiety to maintain good mental health and warns that, as with many chronic illnesses, stress and anxiety can exacerbate symptoms and make them more difficult to manage. “While maintaining a healthy diet and exercise routine can improve one’s emotional wellbeing, women can also introduce relaxing activities to their routine, such as mindfulness and meditation. Breathing exercises can also help keep anxiety symptoms at bay, such as panic attacks. Reducing caffeine intake is also important, as it can increase anxiety and interfere with sleep patterns.” Dr Thompson advises women to visit their doctor or a psychologist who can start talking therapies and also provide strategies to better cope with stress and anxiety.
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