Poly-cystic Ovarian Disorder (PCOD), commonly referred to as Poly-cystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) is a female physiological problem associated with Ovaries. Despite the fact that PCOS is an endocrinal disorder and PCOD is a disease caused by hormonal imbalance, they are fundamentally the same. Dr. Duru Shah, a gynecologist and the founder of the PCOS Society of India, stated that it’s a disorder that can manifest in a number of ways such as:
- Irregular or Delayed Periods: A lack of or insufficient ovulation prevents the uterine lining from shedding itself every month.
- Unusually Heavier Bleeding: Since the uterine lining does not shed on a regular basis, it accumulates more and more within the uterus. When the cycle occurs, it leads unusually heavier bleeding.
- Excessive Hair Growth: More than 70% of women with PCOD have excessive hair growth on their face, back, and other parts of their body. This may be due to an excessive amount of male hormones
- In addition to these symptoms, cystic acne, weight problems (being overweight or obese), hair thinning and falling, dark patches and stretches, constant headaches, etc. are also commonly experienced.
PCOD is a disorder that affects the ovaries as well as the ovulation process. The term poly-cystic refers to a large number of cysts. These cysts are simply follicles that contain immature eggs that will never mature enough for ovulation and hence will never pass out from the ovaries. Because of the lack of ovulation, estrogen and progesterone levels fall while androgen levels increase.
Healthcare professionals have been observing signs of PCOD/PCOS in female patients since at least the 1700s. Even after hundreds of years, the root cause of this widespread women’s health condition still remains a mystery. Experts in women’s healthcare have discovered valuable new clues that extend our understanding of what’s causing this condition. Some of the prominent causes are:
- Obesity due to unhealthy diet and lack of exercise
- Women whose mother or sister have PCOD or Type 2 Diabetes are likely to develop the condition because of genetics
- Insulin resistance leads to high testosterone levels, and many more.
This hormonal imbalance has unfortunately become a fairly common problem faced by women these days. This condition affects approximately one in every five (20 percent) Indian women of reproductive age. Because of the stigma associated, some studies have shown that about 70% of women do not even get themselves checked because they are embarrassed. They refrain from disclosing the situation until it becomes intolerable. This treatment absence may have severe health effects such as cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome, mood disorders, and so on.
A SOCIETAL STIGMA
PCOD/PCOS is a syndrome that is not widely discussed in certain segments of the society. It is referred to as “tabooed” because of its connection with menstruation. According to studies on the prevalence of PCOS, nearly 92% of women majorly belonging from the Economically Weaker Section (EWS) had one or more gynecological or sexual disorders, and only 8% of them had previously undergone medical examination and care.
Women tend to conceal everything related to their biological lives, even from their closest relatives. Teenage girls who feel the need to address menstruation in their peer group prefer using specific verbosity so as to avoid breaking the tradition of holding menstruation subjects under wraps. They avoid discussing their menstrual problems with the opposite sex because they become the punch line of jokes.
SOCIETAL RESTRICTIONS IMPOSED UPON WOMEN
The restrictions placed on menstruating women are the result of society’s socio-genic and psycho-genic attitude, particularly that of males. Menstrual activities are given different interpretations and as a result, women are prohibited from engaging in various activities. In India, prohibitions on menstruating women vary from not allowing them to enter religious buildings to not even touching them or their belongings.
Anything involving reproduction and females is considered sinful. Menstruating women are considered impure in many Indian households. It is feared that if she casts her shadow on some pickle, it would ruin the pickle by triggering fungal activity in the container. However, no proper explanations have been given for the saying.
People seem to believe that isolating menstruating women and treating them inhumanely is an age-old practice and must be upheld even today, no matter how unjustified it is. However, as per studies, women, especially housewives, prefer to face regular periods isolations because it relieves them from all the household and religious duties.
Because of social stigma and ignorance towards PCOD/PCOS, people tend to believe in commonly spoken misconceptions and avoid seeking proper medical advice about their condition. These myths may include:
- The patient is solely responsible for her disease
- Losing weight will surely help you get rid of PCOS
- If you suffer from PCOD, you cannot become pregnant
- Only overweight women are affected by the disorder, etc.
THE PLIGHT OF MARRIED WOMEN
PCOS/PCOD is a significant problem for those who suffer from it, and it is even more difficult for married women who are unable to bear children. As a result, the greatest stigma associated with this disorder is the inability to bear children. This condition not only causes a woman’s life to be incomplete, but it also isolates her socially. It is an illness with medical origins, but its effect is solely social, leaving women incomplete, alone, and mentally exhausted.
CAUSE OF PSYCHOLOGICAL DISTRESS
In traditional societies, females are unable to describe their physical illnesses to anyone due to the absence of senior female members of the family or anyone they can talk to, which turns out to be a cause of their mental illness as well. Women with PCOS/PCOD have substantially higher levels of emotional distress than average women. In reality, their level of instability is comparable to that of people suffering from psychiatric disorders. Mothers also teach their daughters to remain silent about everything pertaining to their private parts.
IGNORANCE AND LACK OF EDUCATION
Lack of knowledge about the disorder amplifies its effect. The most significant challenge is that people themselves have no idea of what is happening to them or why is it happening to them. A few women despite knowing that they are suffering from the disorder, do not consider it as a matter of concern. Due to such ignorance, sufferers are unaware of the importance of bringing lifestyle changes in order to keep the effects of the disease under control.
In conclusion, women with PCOD/PCOS feel isolated and marginalised because they are unable to communicate and express their plight to others. Stereotype is reinforced by the belief that it is associated with a pre-existing image of women. This social image is amplified even more by the idealisation of this image by women themselves.
The hormonal imbalance is caused by various medical and genetic reasons. It does not hold any sort of cultural explanation in the society. Despite that, women are more concerned regarding the societal aspect of the illness rather than seeking medical guidance. This needs to stop.
Regardless of how diverse, inclusive and modern our society has become, a public discussion about a women’s reproductive process is still regarded as uncivil. While more research is required, existing studies indicate that there is an increasing need to spread general awareness, irrespective of gender and sex. Women should not hesitate or feel embarrassed to speak about their condition and take professional help. It is imperative to break the taboo and let women come out of the bubble.