What is PCOS?
In a nutshell PCOS is a bitch. Unless you suffer from it, you can’t truly understand how crap it is. There’s no one size fits all when it comes to it either.. you can suffer from a few of the symptoms or all of them, or a random selection of them. PCOS stands for Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (sometimes referred to as Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome) It’s said to affect 1 in 10 women, which is crazy to me.. because before I was diagnosed with it, I had never heard of it. I now notice articles to do with it often, whether that’s because it’s become more heard about or that I’m just more aware I don’t know. Probably the latter.
Without going into the medical terminology too much I will give you a rundown of symptoms that can occur with PCOS. If you’re looking for a more in depth overview then you’re going to want to search around online, buy a book or ask your doctor. Basically to be diagnosed as suffering from PCOS it usually means you suffer from high levels of androgens (the male hormone), you have no periods or irregular periods and/or you have ovarian cysts. Of course you can have a whole variety of other fun (NOT) symptoms. See below.
Common Symptoms of PCOS:
- Ovarian cysts
- Excess Hair (face and body)
- Weight gain (often resulting in obesity) and extreme difficulty in losing it
- Insulin resistance
- Missing or irregular periods (meaning it’s more difficult to become pregnant) / Infertility
- Pelvic pain
- Depression and/or anxiety
- Male-pattern baldness and/or thinning hair
- Patches of darker skin
- Skin tags
- Sleep apnoea
I found out I had PCOS after I was concerned that I was gaining weight for no reason and not able to lose it.. I had a bunch of other symptoms too, but the most scary one was not having a period for 9 months (without being pregnant!) I basically harassed my doctor into finding out what was wrong with me, because unless you fight for your health issues to be looked into they’re not going to bother.. at least that’s what it is like here in the UK. After convincing my doctor there was something seriously wrong with me, I finally had a blood test which confirmed that I had high levels of androgens.. she then booked me in for an ultrasound to find out if I had cysts on my ovaries.. which it turns out I do. After that it was a no brainer that I do indeed suffer from PCOS. I don’t suffer from all the symptoms above, but I do have ovarian cysts, weight problems, acne, excess hair (most distressingly on my face), insulin resistance, pelvic pain, depression and anxiety. My periods (touch wood) have been regular for a while, heavy and painful – but that’s always been the case with me. Fortunately, I don’t suffer from male pattern baldness (I do lose hair, but nothing really noticeable), darker skin, skin tags or sleep apnoea.. although that last one I may and just not know it.
There are a bunch of theories out there as to what causes PCOS, but usually they are conflicting.. one site will tell you one thing, then a book will tell you something else. I think they just don’t know yet. Like most things they like to blame genetics, saying that if you have it, then you’re more likely to have a mother or sister with it too.. which is not the case for me. I’ve also heard that my past eating issues could also be a cause, but then they also say that they’re not sure if PCOS triggers an eating disorder or whether an eating disorder triggers PCOS.
There’s no known cure for PCOS, but there are ways to manage your symptoms. How you and your doctor go about treating your symptoms depends on what you want to achieve.. like if you’re focusing on becoming pregnant VS if you just want to get rid of your acne. Eating healthy and a low GI diet is thought to be key to help regulate your hormones and manage insulin levels.. apparently, even losing 10% of your body weight can make your cycle regular again. That’s not been the case for me, in fact, I’ve put on weight from when my period disappeared and now it’s “normal”. Birth control pills are said to help with your cycle, manage acne and reduce the male hormone.. they didn’t work for me, but I know they have been successful for other people. Medication for diabetes is usually recommended too, I was given Metformin (which I had to stop because it made me feel so sick) but that’s meant to help with the insulin levels and in turn help you to lose weight.. sadly, it didn’t work for me. There are various medications out there for acne and excess hair too, but you usually have to ask for them. I don’t think doctors really understand how crappy those “cosmetic” issues affect your self esteem. None of the medications/creams for acne worked for me (given up on them) I use Vaniqa for excess hair, but it’s not a permanent solution and sadly I can’t afford to go for laser treatment and the NHS won’t fund it. There’s various treatments to help with fertility, but as that’s something I’ve never wanted to explore I don’t have much in the way of information on it. Bariatric surgery is said to help obese PCOS patients, but again, good luck getting the NHS to fund that.. and most of us can’t afford to go private on that.
Having PCOS puts you at risk of getting serious health issues too. Apparently more than 50% of women with PCOS will have diabetes before the age of 40. The risk of having a heart attack is 4 to 7 times higher than women without PCOS. You are at greater risk of high blood pressure and high cholesterol too. Of course the risk of cancer is higher too, for endometrial cancer/ovarian cancer. Overall, it sucks! There’s nothing good about this condition and it’s difficult to live with.
What can I do if I know someone with PCOS?
Love them. Trust me, a little love can go a long way. Make them feel beautiful because if they are anything like me then they will hate themselves most of the time, so even the odd comment to say they look nice will go a long way. Don’t get all up in their grill about their weight or diet, it’s none of your business. You can be encouraging if they give you that privilege, but otherwise in the nicest possible way you can shove your suggestions up your arse. They probably feel really depressed with their weight as it is and preaching or making them feel worse about it is not the way to go. Don’t get on their case about it, this will only push them away and make them withdraw more. I know when people push with me it often has the opposite effect. If you want to do something nice to boost their spirits or make them feel good you can always put together a box of goodies to make them feel happier.. include some of their fave beauty products, healthy snacks, vouchers etc.. PCOS can really bring you down and make you hate yourself, anything to boost the mood will be well received I’m sure. Just as long as it’s not a gym or diet membership, that’s just insulting!
If anyone out there wants to talk more about PCOS or needs a friend who understands you can e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org
I hope this was useful and not too hard to understand! If you think you may have PCOS please don’t be afraid to talk to your doctor, make them investigate.