Twelve percent of Australian women are affected by Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome which can cause infertility.
Emma Jasch is a busy 21-year-old. She has started her own photography business, is studying a Bachelor of Nursing, working part-time at a disability respite centre in Brisbane and through all of this she is managing a condition known as Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS).
It started with her needing emergency surgery to remove an 8cm cyst on her left ovary which had doctors worried they may have to remove the whole ovary. Fortunately it didn’t come to that but the surgery did lead to Emma being diagnosed with PCOS, which is a chronic, hormonal disorder that affects about 12 percent of Australian women.
The syndrome can cause a range of issues including infertility, cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Symptoms can include excessive hair growth (from a high level of androgens), missed or irregular periods and small cysts (or follicles)—usually about 10mm in size—found on the ovaries.
Brisbane fertility specialist and gynaecologist Dr Simone Campbell said this confusing condition can vary hugely for different women.
“It’s quite a dynamic disease. Someone may have all the symptoms but feel perfectly fine. It’s a really interesting pathology that gets a woman to that point,” she says.
For Emma, as with many women, her main concern when diagnosed was whether or not she would be able to have children in the future.
“When they said I had PCOS, I was worried what it would mean later on in life. And they explained that I had just as much chance of having kids as anyone else, it might just take a bit longer,” she says.
Dr Campbell said there are drugs and procedures that can assist women to become pregnant “We definitely know that women with PCOS have higher risks in pregnancy of diabetes and high blood pressure, so at times a diabetic drug can be used in the face of fertility issues,” she says.
For Dr Campbell, losing weight (if her patients have a weight problem) can dramatically decrease the symptoms of this syndrome to the point that losing as little as five percent can allow a woman to fall pregnant.
“My big push is to make sure women are as fit and healthy as possible without being excessive, which we should all be aiming for anyway,” she says.