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Woman shares yearslong experience with PCOS to spotlight the impact on South Asian women

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(NEW YORK) — A woman is sharing her experience with polycystic ovary syndrome, or PCOS, to put a spotlight on a community at greater risk of the condition: women of South Asian descent.

Varsha Singh of Pennsylvania told ABC News’ Good Morning America that she struggled with symptoms for over a decade before being diagnosed with PCOS in her mid-20s.

“My hair was shedding more over time, and coupled with having an irregular period, I knew something was off,” Singh said, adding, “I was not given any kind of support that I wish I had.”

The condition Singh, 31, was ultimately diagnosed with, PCOS, is a female hormone imbalance in which the ovaries produce excessive amounts of testosterone and, in some cases, form small ovarian cysts, according to the U.S. Office on Women’s Health.

Symptoms of PCOS can include everything from irregular or absent periods to excessive facial hair, acne and obesity. The exact cause of PCOS is not known.

The condition affects 1 in 10 women of childbearing age, according to the Office on Women’s Health.

People of South Asian descent are at even higher risk for PCOS, multiple studies show.

One study, based in the United Kingdom, estimated nearly 50% of South Asians had polycystic ovaries (PCO), which is one criteria of PCOS.

Another study published in 2021 found that the prevalence of PCOS in South Asian women was 3.3%, compared to 1% for Chinese women and 1.5% for Filipina women.

“People who are of South Asian descent tend to present with symptoms at a younger age and have more severe hirsutism, or that high level of male hormone in the body,” Dr. Fatima Daoud Yilmaz, a New York-based, board-certified OB-GYN, told GMA, adding that there is a need for more research and visibility on people of South Asian descent with PCOS.

“We shouldn’t be comparing everyone to a default of a Caucasian person, but rather comparing you to people who have a similar origin that you do,” Daoud Yilmaz said.

A diagnosis of PCOS requires two of three criteria: Irregular ovulation, which is usually indicated by an irregular menstrual cycle or a lack of a cycle; increased androgen levels; and multiple small cysts on the ovaries.

After she was diagnosed, Singh started chronicling her journey with PCOS online, in the hopes that she might help other people.

She said for her, lifestyle changes including diet and exercise made a difference in treating the condition.

“I had more time to learn how to work out the right way for me and how to meal prep and cook healthy foods,” Singh said. “Within three months, my body was showing improvements.”

She continued, “I’m doing yoga and meditating. Now it’s a lifestyle practice for me.”

Other treatment options to manage PCOS symptoms include hormonal birth control and anti-androgen medicines as well as weight loss, according to the Office on Women’s Health.

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