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My Journey with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)

My Journey with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)

How to Know if You Have Polycystic Ovary Syndrome

When I got diagnosed with PCOS, I had no idea how complex it was. I assumed taking medication would heal me and all the symptoms I experienced would go away but treatment required so much more.

Discovering that PCOS is a lifelong battle was devastating. Because of PCOS, I have trouble losing weight, and people assumed that exercising or eating less would do the trick. However, it’s not that simple.

Confiding in other women reminded me that I wasn’t alone; many of us suffer from PCOS. Though each woman will have a unique PCOS experience, knowing that many others understood what I was going through was a source of comfort.

It was confusing, especially when I first found out about my condition. I wanted to understand what was happening to me, so I researched and found solace in reading and studying more about this often-disregarded condition.

After spending some time learning about PCOS, here’s what I learned:

What is PCOS?

Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) is a common reproductive condition that originates from a woman’s endocrine system. It causes erratic menstrual cycles, unpredictable ovulation, and missed periods. It is also linked to a woman’s metabolism problems and overall health.

While the exact cause of PCOS is unknown, it’s believed to be related to abnormal hormone levels. These are some of the hormones that may disrupt the balance of your reproductive system and cause PCOS:

  • Androgens (testosterone and androstenedione)
  • Estrogen
  • Follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH)
  • Insulin
  • Luteinizing hormone (LH)
  • Progesterone

PCOS affects about 1 in 10 women of reproductive age. It can develop as soon as your first period, but most diagnoses happen to women in their 20s or 30s.

How to Know if You Have Polycystic Ovary Syndrome

Many people don’t realize that they have PCOS. For some, their PCOS was too mild to be noticeable. Meanwhile, others don’t know what to look out for. I was part of the latter.

When I started gaining weight in 2019, I chalked it up as a side effect of taking psychiatric medications. I simply attributed my irregular menstrual cycle to stress, not realizing there was something more serious at the root. I noticed I was breaking out more often, so I tried different skin care products and slept earlier to try and remedy it. I incorrectly assumed my lack of sleep and skincare routine caused my acne problem.

About a year later, I conceded to my sister’s request that I see an OBGYN. The doctor checked my history and ordered a pelvic ultrasound and a blood test. When the results came back, it was clear that my weight gain, undependable menstrual cycle, and breakouts all stemmed from PCOS.

Wanting to learn more, I’ve gathered some of the symptoms and methods used to diagnose PCOS.

Symptoms

Here are some of the symptoms you need to look out for:

  • Abnormal menstruation
  • Acne
  • Cysts
  • Dark skin patches
  • Excessive hair
  • Skin tags
  • Thinning hair
  • Weight gain

Abnormal Menstruation

Irregular menstruation is one of the most common symptoms of PCOS. It can manifest through late or missed periods or our bleeding flow, which can be heavy or very light.

Acne

Breakouts that persist into adulthood may also be a sign. PCOS can cause difficult-to-treat acne in areas such as the face, chest, and upper body.

acne as symptom of polycystic ovary syndrome
Photo by Anna Nekrashevich from Pexels

Cysts

Considered the red flag of PCOS, this is when enlarged ovaries contain follicles or little sacs filled with fluid. Cysts can rupture, causing possible health problems that need immediate attention.

Because ovarian cysts are not visible on the outside, various tests need to be conducted to detect them. Typically, doctors will perform an ultrasound to monitor the thickness of the uterine lining, check the size of the ovaries, and look for cysts inside your uterus.

Dark Skin Patches

Also known as acanthosis nigricans, having dark patches of skin in the folds of your armpits, groin, or neck can be a sign of PCOS.

Excessive Hair Growth

Hirsutism, the abnormal hair growth on body parts where men usually have hair, is another symptom. Common areas affected by hirsutism include the abdomen, chest, chin, and upper lip.

hair growth symptom of PCOS

Skin Tags

Another symptom to watch for is the presence of skin tags or excess skin flap on the neck or armpit areas.

Thinning Hair

Male-pattern baldness, hair loss, and thinning hair are possible signs of polycystic ovary syndrome.

Weight Gain

Many women with PCOS have difficulty losing weight, especially around the abdomen. About 38-88% of women who suffer from PCOS are overweight or obese.

weight gain symptom of PCOS
Photo by Pavel Danilyuk from Pexels

Diagnosis

Women are typically diagnosed with PCOS when they have at least two of these:

  • Irregular menstrual cycles characterized by missed periods and heavy bleeding when they do have their periods
  • Signs of hormonal imbalance such as baldness, excessive hair growth, or acne
  • Cysts in one or both ovaries

These are usually checked using blood tests, pelvic exams, pelvic ultrasounds, and physical checkups.

Effects of Having Polycystic Ovary Syndrome

Polycystic Ovary Syndrome affects a woman’s overall health and may lead to other health problems. Here are some effects of PCOS if not treated:

PCOS Effects on Fertility and Pregnancy

The decreased frequency or lack of ovulation caused by PCOS can result in infertility. For those who were able to conceive, PCOS increases the dangers of:

  • Gestational diabetes (diabetes during pregnancy)
  • Miscarriage
  • Preeclampsia (high blood pressure and kidney problems during pregnancy)
  • Cesarean section

Unfortunately, babies born to women with PCOS have a high chance of spending a lot of time in the neonatal intensive care unit.

PCOS Effects on Fertility
Photo by freestocks from Unsplash

PCOS Effects on Physical Health

More disadvantages of PCOS are the severe illnesses it may cause. These include

  • Diabetes
  • Endometrial Cancer
  • Heart Disease
  • High Blood Pressure
  • Stroke

PCOS Effects on Mental Health

Studies show that around 27 – 50% of women with PCOS have depression and anxiety. Many suffer from low self-esteem, negative body image, and mood changes.

With how much PCOS can affect women’s quality of life, it’s imperative to know if PCOS can be cured or not.

See Also

disadvantages of PCOS
Photo by Anastasia Shuraeva from Pexels

Treating PCOS

While there is no known cure for PCOS, treatments are depending on your medical history, health conditions, and symptoms. These treatments can help reduce symptoms and prevent long-term complications.

Treatments can be one or a combination of the following:

  • Lifestyle Changes
  • Medication
  • Surgery

Lifestyle Changes

Maintaining a healthy lifestyle is a great way to manage PCOS. This includes eating healthy, being physically active, getting enough rest, and avoiding excessive drinking.

A healthy diet includes plenty of fruits and vegetables, ensuring adequate vitamin and mineral intake. Different vitamins and minerals improve your body’s insulin resistance and help you keep your symptoms in check.

Women with PCOS are encouraged to be active for at least 150 minutes a week or about 22 minutes daily to improve their menstrual cycle and insulin sensitivity.

While going to the gym or running are both great ways to get in some regular exercise, there are more ways you can do it. In fact, simply standing more than sitting and moving about every day to avoid being sedentary can do the trick.

Medication

Another treatment for PCOS is taking medication. This depends on whether the patient being treated is trying to get pregnant or not.

Some medications for women trying not to get pregnant are

  • Hormonal birth control – intrauterine device (IUD), patches, pills, shots, or vaginal rings
  • Insulin-sensitizing medications – biguanide, metformin, rosiglitazone, and other diabetic medication

For women trying to get pregnant, they can take medications like

  • Medications that induce ovulation – clomiphene, gonadotropins, or letrozole

Surgery

This treatment is done for women who want to get pregnant. Ovarian drilling removes tissues that produce androgen hormones to trigger ovulation.

The treatment for PCOS differs depending on the patient. Doctors and patients must consider medical history, health conditions, and symptoms when finding the right treatment. Each doctor will have a different approach to treating PCOS, so it’s important to work with one you’re comfortable with.

Living with PCOS

Learning about PCOS helped me understand what to do to become healthier. I still need to take medication daily and strive to lose weight but knowing as much as I possibly could about my condition reminded me that I’m not alone in this journey and that there are things I can do to manage the symptoms of PCOS.

Since my diagnosis, I’ve tried to avoid weighing myself because I know I’m worth much more than the numbers on the scale. I’ve also been more careful with my eating and focused on moving about daily to maintain my health.

It’s not easy. There are days when I feel like I’ve conquered PCOS, and there are days when I just feel defeated.

Living with PCOS is an ongoing battle and I know that with no cure at the moment, I will continue to struggle. It’s a work in progress, but I won’t let PCOS stop me. What matters is I continue to fight.

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