POLYCYSTIC OVARY SYNDROME (PCOS) – The Hairy Truth.!
Polycystic Ovary Syndrome has 3 main features as explained on the NHS Choices Website.
1.Irregular periods because the ovaries don’t ovulate regularly
2.Excess Androgen – high levels of the male hormone which can lead to excess hair growth in areas that you don’t expect to have hair as a female, for example, facial, chest, back and buttocks. These hormones can also lead to hair loss.
3.Polycystic ovaries – Ovaries become enlarged and contain many fluid-filled sacs (follicles) which surround the eggs. Despite the inclusion of the word “cystic” in the name, the ovaries do not actually contain cysts.
According to the NHS, if a woman has at least 2 of these symptoms, she would be diagnosed with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS). The jury is out on what causes PCOS, but a popular thought is that it is related to irregular and imbalanced hormones and that there is in some cases thought to be a genetic link, therefore it is quite likely that if you have PCOS, your mother, sisters, aunts also have this condition.
This is a condition close to my heart as I was diagnosed with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) when I was about 22 years old. Fortunately for me, my fertility was not greatly impacted upon and I conceived my daughter within 12 months of trying to conceive naturally. Statistically, this time frame would not be considered a “fertility issue”. I do however have extremely irregular periods and hair growing in places that I am sure shouldn’t be there. Hundreds of waxing appointments later, thousands of pounds spent on said treatments, and I finally have my body hair under some kind of reasonable control.
Other symptoms of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) are hair loss, oily skin and acne. Some women are also more prone to depression and I for one would admit that my mental health and I have a love-hate relationship at times, but again, through open and honest conversations with my GP, this is also relatively well controlled, unless someone takes food off my plate and then it’s gloves off. Which is a good time to mention that weight gain is also a delightful side effect of PCOS and one which where the more weight you gain, the more obvious your other symptoms may become. Obesity in itself can have an impact on mental health, fertility, self-esteem and also increase the risk of type 2 diabetes and coronary heart disease…. Which are also symptoms of PCOS. Now is also a good time to mention that the reduction in periods a woman with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) may experience in a year can also contribute to being at higher risk of endometrial cancer (cancer of the lining of the womb). However, this particular risk is still small and can be managed with the use of the contraceptive pill or having a coil fitted.
The bad news is that there is no cure for Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS), but the symptoms are (so they tell me) manageable. The use of certain contraceptive pills to control hair growth, regulate periods and to suppress the male hormones, are a popular treatment. Healthy eating and weight management are also ways of managing the side effects of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS), although personally I would argue that is easier said than done when erratic insulin levels cause sugar cravings that I would do time for, but which then have the compounding effect of making me gain weight like a stone gathering moss when it plummets down a hill. Did I mention high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease and stroke, not to mention sleep apnoea (I should explain this to my husband to get him to stop complaining about my snoring).
So what can you do? In the first instance, if anything in this article sounds like you, then I recommend a trip to your GP. Go armed with information. Most women only find out they have PCOS when they begin trying to start a family and struggle to conceive in a timely manner alongside all their yummy mummy friends, who seem to only have to think about becoming pregnant and HEY PRESTO, yummy mummy Junior appears 9 months later, which take it from me, is intensely irritating. For those of you like me who have had children but are experiencing some of the other symptoms such as erratic periods, mood swings etc, don’t just assume it’s that time of life and you’re a woman of a certain age. Discuss all your symptoms with your GP and discuss the best way forwards. The GP can refer you on to a gynaecologist or an endocrinologist who specialises in hormone imbalances. You may also be offered annual checks on your blood pressure and for diabetes, dependant on your age.
One statistic available suggests that 1 in 5 women are affected by PCOS.
Now whilst I am glad to be included in the top 20% of a category, I’d rather it be for being an award-winning nurse or editorial writer, NOT for being in the top 20% of women most likely to grow a beard by the age of 50. Most advice available strongly promotes the idea of “lifestyle” changes such as healthy eating and exercise to help reduce weight gain and testosterone levels which should promote better mental health and fertility. Many healthcare providers actively advocate the use of plucking, shaving, waxing, electrolysis and use of depilatory creams to deal with unwanted and excess hair growth. Whilst there is fertility treatments readily available dependant on your postcode or bank balance, there is little out there to deal with the lifelong issues caused by Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) unless it is on a reactive level of treatment rather than prevention.
My advice to you is: See your GP. Don’t be shy about challenging the ideas that you “just need to lose weight” or “it’s your age”. Be honest, not just with the healthcare professionals, but with yourself. Where has that depression and low self-esteem come from? Do you just have to put up with it? Quite possibly not. If all else fails, a cream cake and a pair of tweezers might do the trick, but I believe we’re worth more than resigning ourselves to a lifetime of plucking and increasing waistlines.
As always, be healthy and be happy.