How apt is it that I am welcoming PCOS awareness month with a PCOS flare up? It’s like my body has decided to try method acting. Sorry, I’m speaking in acronyms like some eighties businessman – let me clarify what I’m on about. Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome. A surprisingly common disorder that not a lot of people know about.
The basics? PCOS is a hormone disorder that affects one in ten people with ovaries. Essentially, it’s a condition that affects how the ovaries work. And considering very few people know about it, and it being PCOS Awareness Month and all, I thought it was high time I give you all a breakdown. Not a mental one, obviously. A breakdown on everything PCOS.
To get diagnosed with PCOS, you typically need two out of three symptoms. The first symptom is – well, the clue is in the name – polycystic ovaries! Contrary to the name of PCOS, polycystic ovaries don’t involve actually having cysts on the ovaries, that’s a different problem entirely. Polycystic ovaries occur when the ovaries develop fluid filled sacs around the eggs and the ovaries get enlarged. The second symptom is irregular periods. Normally, this centres around the body not regularly releasing eggs, delayed periods, long gaps between bleeds and the like. The final diagnosis symptom is the presence of excess hormones in your body. Namely excess androgen, the ‘male’ hormone. In my personal experience, irregular periods and excess androgen are my PCOS culprits.
However, those aren’t the only symptoms of PCOS. If I had to work this out mathematically, I would write “PCOS + symptoms = minefield” on the chalkboard. Alongside ovaries failing to work properly (love that for us), folks with PCOS can experience weight gain, hair loss, excess hair growth, oily skin, and difficulty in falling pregnant. But wait, there’s more! Around 40% of PCOS sufferers also struggle with depression. Don’t forget the exciting opportunity to develop anxiety, insulin resistance, and chronic fatigue. If you are lucky enough, you too can be like me and deal with inflammation, pain, and swelling. Ka-chow.
Just like every body is different, everybody will deal with different symptoms. For some folks, they won’t even know they have PCOS as they don’t show any physical symptoms!
Whilst the condition itself can be frustrating, the most frustrating thing of all is that the cause is unknown. There is evidence to say there is a familial link or that it’s strongly hormone related, but there is not a simple why. Similarly, there is no cure – only treatment and management. You can treat the symptoms with medication and certain lifestyle changes, but it’s very rare that PCOS simply goes away. One of the largest misconceptions in the online world and even in the medical community is that you can only have PCOS if you are overweight. Losing weight certainly is a treatment to tackle PCOS and its symptoms. However, any body losing weight at any size results in a change of hormone levels.
The symptoms themselves overlap with so many others – I’m talking IBS, endometriosis, diabetes, and even cancer. So the safest way, and realistically the only way, to get diagnosed is to speak to your GP. This is not a condition you should self-diagnose. Tell them about your symptoms, your worries, and your own research. A lot of GPs still have their heads in the sand when it comes to anything period related, so push push push for tests. Based on my symptoms, I had a blood test to confirm diagnosis, and then an ultrasound to see if I had polycystic ovaries. BAM, diagnosis complete.
So, those are the basics of PCOS, in all its hormonal and frustrating glory. If you have any issues with periods at all, or are supporting someone with similar problems, speak to a medical professional. Don’t sit in discomfort, pain, or fear – you don’t deserve that.
If you have any questions about PCOS or living with it, I am more than happy to answer- just pop them in the comments! If talking about my experience can ease someone’s mind, then it’s all worth it. Over the month of September, I’ll be talking more about PCOS on this blog in honour of the awareness month. Keep your eyes peeled friends, and thanks for reading.