An approximately 75% of cases where young women have problems with menstruation due to late puberty, PCOS is often diagnosed. Irregular, infrequent or absent periods, or periods with heavy flow and unbearable pain, are all variations of the problem. Sometimes PCOS presents itself much later in life when a woman of childbearing age stops using contraceptive pills and finds herself having very long cycles or no cycles at all, and is unable to conceive.
Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a complex syndrome that includes problems with a woman’s menstrual cycle (length, intensity), her ability to have children, her hormone levels, and her appearance (excessive hair growth on the chin and cheeks, acne, weight gain, baldness).
The symptoms of PCOS can vary from woman to woman, with some women suffering more than others. Symptoms can include any of the following:
• Infertility due to lack of ovulation (PCOS is the most common cause of infertility); Anxiety; Depression
• Menstrual irregularities: irregular or absent menses;
• Heavy menstruation (especially if periods are late);
• Painful menstruation or pain during ovulation, bleeding in the middle of a cycle;
• Pelvic pain (distention, heaviness, stabbing pain);
• Physical changes (often occurring at a later stage but not always): increased hair growth
Traditional Chinese Medicine for PCOS
Chinese medicine has studied polycystic ovaries since ancient times. There are many ancient and modern text books which mention abdominal masses (ie polycystic ovaries), along with scanty menstruation and absent or delayed menstruation.
According to Traditional Chinese Medicine theory, organs involved with PCOS include the Spleen, Kidney and Liver, with a subsequent disharmony of Chong and Ren channels / meridians.
In my Traditional Chinese Medicine practice, the condition known as PCOS has become a very common diagnosis. I see young women diagnosed with PCOS who are quite thin, have no facial or body hair growth, and suffer from very painful menstruation that is relieved by the application of hot pads. These women tend to feel more chilly, especially around the time of their periods.
Other women, also diagnosed with PCOS, have very irregular periods occurring only 4 or 5 times a year, but with a heavy and debilitating flow. They most often come to me for help because they have been trying unsuccessfully to get pregnant for a couple of years. Some mature women come because of persistent, painful acne and later find out they have PCOS.
Chinese medicine views PCOS as a complex combination of different patterns. Ovarian cysts are seen and treated as an accumulation of ‘phlegm damp’ in the uterus, enlarging the ovaries. This pattern is often accompanied by blood stagnation that is responsible for painful menstruation (stabbing pain) and dark, scanty, thick blood.
At the root of the disease is a kidney deficiency (hormonal imbalance), and a spleen qi deficiency (digestive problems) which causes accumulation of dampness. Very often a liver qi stagnation, worsened by years of stress or frustration, is added to the mix.
To effect complete recovery from PCOS, Chinese medicine uses herbs and acupuncture to regulate menstrual cycles, improve digestion, dissolve cysts, promote ovulation, improve egg quality, support conception and prevent a miscarriage when a pregnancy is achieved.