How Doreen Seah deals with polycystic ovary syndrome, which affects the fertility of almost 1 in 10 Singaporean women.

“I was always quite fit as a child and through my school years. I was in NCC, I ran, I was active in church. Active and always exercising.

“Things didn’t change much until I started working in my first job. I can’t quite remember when exactly, but my menses started being irregular and I started getting quite big. At first I thought I was putting on weight, so I tried dieting. My weight went up and down, like my clothing sizes.

“I got married, and stopped exercising. I actually had not too much difficulty getting pregnant — but the irregular periods and bloating still occurred. Then my gynae who handled my child’s delivery and did a blood test, called me in for an ultrasound scan of my ovaries.

“He told me I have PCOS. He said it’s a hormone imbalance and something like 8 per cent of women in Singapore have it. My body was making more androgens (male hormones). My gynae said everyone makes a little bit, but mine was higher than usual. And it had lead to cysts forming on my ovaries, which could lead to scarring. I felt so lucky that I had had no problems having my son.

“He explained that I had a choice — I could go for hormonal treatments or try regulating my lifestyle. He said that since I was not obese, I don’t have high blood pressure and I’m not diabetic (though my family has some history of both conditions), I could try exercising. If that didn’t work, we would have to review my treatment options.

[PCOS had lead] to cysts forming on my ovaries, which could lead to scarring. I felt so lucky that I had had no problems having my son!

“So after not exercising for 11-and-a-half years, I started running again. Actually, I built up the habit again until I was regularly running 10 clicks and completed several half marathons in the past decade. I’ve had to reduce some of that because my running took a toll on my back and my joints, but now I also do Pilates several times a week.

“I also changed my job to a less stressful one, and I am a volunteer who counsels some groups of less-fortunate people — helping with financial coaching and life management.

“I have been very lucky that my symptoms were only irregular menses and bloating (though at the time, I was kind of obsessed about my weight). I’ve talked to other people with PCOS and they’ve had so much trouble conceiving, or developed diabetes or had bad cramping.

“I have been able to control my condition through exercise and eating healthy. And I’m continuing that. I was hoping that with menopause, I could relax a bit, but apparently I will have to stay alert because the imbalances could persist after, and I will still be vulnerable to diabetes.”

Doreen Seah, 48, an administration executive, lives with her 17-year-old son, and husband of 30 years in Telok Blangah.

Read on for the low-down on PCOS…


Facts about PCOS

What is PCOS?
The correct term for PCOS is Polycystic Ovary Syndrome. The exact cause is currently unknown, but it involves a hormonal imbalance.

What will a woman feel if she has PCOS?
Symptoms would include irregular menses, increased hair growth, acne and obesity. Women with PCOS are also at risk for developing Type 2 diabetes.

What are the possible effects on her fertility?
She may have difficulty getting pregnant as PCOS impairs ovulation.

What treatment is possible for this condition?
Women who wish to achieve a pregnancy should aim to lose weight through exercise and a change of diet. There are medications that can help to increase chances of conception (such as those to induce ovulation). You can check whether you are ovulating through tracking your BBT (basal body temperature), changes in the cervical mucus, ovulation prediction kits and vaginal ultrasound tracking of the follicle (the ovum or egg is inside, and when it breaks open, the egg is released).

What lifestyle/dietary changes must be made to help with dealing with it?
Women with PCOS should lose weight through exercise and change their diet by eating healthier. They should also seek professional advice on suitable exercise regimens and diets.

Will this condition last all her life or just till menopause?
PCOS should be treated as soon as possible. [Its complications,] obesity and type 2 diabetes, will not be cured with age and therefore, need to be treated.

Photo: iStock

Dr Peter Chew is a senior consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist at Peter Chew Clinic for Women, Gleneagles Medical Centre. He set up the non-profit voluntary welfare organisation, aLife. Dr Chew is also a board member of the voluntary group, I Love Children .

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