Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) is a serious genetic, hormone, metabolic and reproductive disorder – and I have it. It is the leading cause of female infertility and other severe conditions such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, liver disease and severe anxiety and depression.
PCOS Awareness Month is in September and sets about to educate the general public, not only women and girls. Symptoms and severity vary from person to person. It affects 1 in 10 women, not just here in the UK, but worldwide. These symptoms generally start in adolescence.
What are the common signs and symptoms of PCOS?
- Irregular periods
- Excess facial or body hair
- Severe acne
- Cysts in or on ovaries
- Insulin resistance
- Anxiety and depression
- Weight gain
- Thinning hair
- Sleep disturbances
It is estimated that 70% of those with the condition do not know they have it – you can’t treat and manage what you don’t know you have.
Many women with PCOS are likely to have raised levels of testosterone – a hormone often thought of as a male hormone. However, all women usually produce small amounts of it. Women with PCOS are also more likely to have an eating disorder, whether that be binging or bulimia.
It is hard to understand PCOS unless you have it, or know someone who does. There is no cure for PCOS, only treatments to eliminate the symptoms.
How was I diagnosed with PCOS?
I didn’t have my first period until I was 16 and a half (on Christmas Day!), and then I didn’t have another one for a year or so. As I was a late bloomer, this is when I began to put on weight, and my skin began to break out. My diet and exercise have always been inconsistent, and I have spent my entire adult life “on a diet”.
I have terrible bloating. I can wake up with a stomach so rock hard you’d think I was pregnant, or this could happen later on in the day. It is one of the reasons I wear dresses and skirts, as these can accommodate the changing girth.
What PCOS treatment have I had?
Age 19 is the first time I went to the doctors to get the pill. (What birth control is right for you?) Luckily my GP was a consultant for PCOS, and she recognised the symptoms. A scan was booked at the hospital, and the cysts were confirmed. I was also sent to see a dietician. This experience was awful, I learnt nothing about what and how to eat – she told me to walk 10,000 steps, not to eat cake and to eat more fruit and veg.
A friend, who also suffers, told me about the Gi Diet. This is ideal for those with PCOS, as it can help keep insulin levels stable. It is a traffic light system for choosing food. Food in the green includes whole grains, nuts, seeds, fruits, starchy vegetables and other unprocessed, low-carbohydrate foods. I’m now following Slimming World, and even though I’m losing weight slowly, I am getting plenty of the above foods – which must be helping.
About 10 years ago, being even bigger again, I was put on Metformin. The medicine is often used to treat type 2 diabetes. Still, it can lower insulin and blood sugar levels in women with PCOS. For those trying to conceive it can be used, or Clomifene which can encourage the monthly release of an egg from the ovaries.
It is a huge myth that women with PCOS can not get pregnant. For some, unfortunately, this is the case, but the vast majority can get pregnant with lifestyle changes and fertility drugs. Women with PCOS also have more difficulty breastfeeding and producing sufficient milk for their babies.
To be honest, the majority of the time, I just try to manage the symptoms myself. I’ve had them for so long, I forget they are there – it is just part of my life.
Verity the UK’s PCOS Charity
The charity Verity is a fantastic source of information, if you are newly diagnosed, already on your PCOS journey or simply would like to know more. They were recommended to me when I was diagnosed.
How can you get involved with PCOS month?
As part of the awareness month, they are asking for you to share one or more of the social information posts that they have produced. Don’t forget to tag @VerityPCOS or use the hashtag #PCOSAwareness.