Hello world! If you haven't heard, I suffer from PCOS. I was diagnosed when I was 18. I shared my PCOS story once I realized that there are many people facing the same struggles as I do and that do not have a support system. There is also a serious lack of knowledge on PCOS and other chronic illnesses, and this knowledge is especially crucial in making legislation dealing with the healthcare system, medical insurance, and the interaction of the two, acquiring access to the appropriate healthcare facilities, and acquiring access to medical insurance. My first post (you can view it here) gained a lot of attention and I got a lot of encouraging comments (thank you <3) as well as questions concerning the condition, all of which I am very grateful for. This post is dedicated to answering the top 10 questions that I have been frequently asked about PCOS. Don't forget to tell a friend. Sharing is caring.
NB. Mentions of male/female refer to biological sex and not gender identity. Sex and gender are different things. Male/female here is in reference to male/female sexes.
1. What is PCOS? PCOS stands for polycystic ovarian syndrome. It is a common and serious endocrine disorder among female persons of reproductive age. Males also get PCOS, but at a lower rate than females. Think of it like the breast cancer situation. Both males and females can get breast cancer, but it is far more common in females than in males. No, ovaries aren't the cause of PCOS, otherwise males wouldn't have it. PCOS is primarily caused by a dysfunction in the hypothalamus-pituitary axis. The hormones involved are progesterone, androgens and insulin. 1 in every 10-15 females suffers from PCOS, so it is pretty common, but it still remains to largely be undiagnosed/misdiagnosed. P.S. PCOS was originally known as Syndrome of Stein or Stein-Leventhal Syndrome, and that is what it is called when it is found in males because PCOS denotes people who have ovaries.
2. What are the common symptoms of PCOS? These are: ovarian cysts, weight gain, irregular periods, heavy periods, painful periods, severe acne, bloating, excess facial and bodily hair, male pattern hair loss even on females, infertility, anxiety, depression, and insulin resistance.
3. What leads to weight gain amongst people suffering from PCOS? Insulin resistance. Carbohydrates are digested into glucose and absorbed from blood into cells by the action of insulin. Being insulin resistant means that your cells are not responding to insulin so the glucose remains in circulation and is eventually stored as fat in the adipose tissue. Because your cells didn't get glucose, they can't make energy like they usually do so you'll feel hungry more often and you'll crave sugars. You'll also feel lightheaded more often. You'll also be predisposed to obesity and diabetes.
4. What health complications result from PCOS? Prediabetes/diabetes, abnormal cholesterol and triglyceride levels, heart diseases, stroke, infertility, endometrial and ovarian cancers, obesity, and sleep apnea.
5. Is there a cure for PCOS? Not yet. It's like diabetes, really, in that you just live with it while managing it through medication. In some lucky few, the cysts may go away by themselves and never come back, and the condition leaves after a while. In most though, that doesn't happen. In some, surgical intervention may be needed.
6. How do I know of I have PCOS? If you're experiencing any of the symptoms mentioned, you should see a gynaecologist for diagnosis.
7. Does everyone who suffers from PCOS have ovarian cysts? No. Although some PCOS symptoms and may arise from the cysts, there's a significant portion of people who experience all this but do not have the cysts. Also, remember that ovaries are victims themeselves, i.e symptom, not reason.
8. What tests should I anticipate when getting checked for PCOS? Hormone tests, specifically reproductive hormones and insulin. A sonogram may also be done to check for cysts. Be prepared to answer questions about your periods, weight, eating habits, hair, and medical history, to name a few.
9. I have been diagnosed with PCOS. What next? A treatment plan. Ideally, this plan should involve you, your general doctor, the gynaecologist that diagnosed you, an endocrinologist, and a nutritionist. The plan should be suited to your needs, so don't be afraid to speak up and ask questions. PCOS treatment plans revolve around medication and nutrition, as well as some form of exercise.
10. How do you deal with your PCOS? I take Glucophage, also known as Metformin, for my insulin resistance, and I try to maintain good nutritional habits. Good nutritional habits means not skipping meals, regularly eating foods that your body agrees with (e.g. if a food causes you to bloat excessively, just avoid it), not eating too little or too much, and eating nutritious meals. Because I had relatively good eating habits before the diagnosis, this part hasn't been that hard for me. Some have fallen into eating disorders as they try to achieve good nutritional habits, which is why it is important to lias with the nutritionist/dietitian and to have support from people going through the same thing as you. I also keep fit. Contrary to popular opinion, it takes very little to keep fit. In fact, a 30-minute walk each day is enough to keep you fit. So, if you can, walk. Additionally, I take birth control pills to maintain my regular hormone levels and my regular period cycle, and to help alleviate heavy, painful periods. N.B. Consult with your doctors before taking any medical action.
To find out more about PCOS, visit the PCOS Awareness Association.