Well hello again, welcome back!
This is a rather informative post about the syndrome that I have been diagnosed with. When I first started writing it all out, I thought to myself that it would be a breeze… but even though I have been aware of this condition for several months now, it's not until I have come to describe it that I've realised how complex it actually is. So grab a cuppa, buckle up and get ready to learn…
WHAT IS POLYCYSTIC OVARY SYNDROME (PCOS)?
Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) is a fairly common condition that affects how a woman's ovaries work, however many women aren't aware they have it. To understand what PCOS really is, I believe you should first understand the way in which the ovaries work.
The ovaries are located inside a woman's abdomen and about once a month an egg will start to grow inside a follicle. Quite often a number of follicles develop, but it is usually only one that will become a fully mature egg. A surge in a hormone called the Luteinising Hormone (LH) will then instruct the egg to release from the ovary, which is called ovulation, but in many cases of PCOS this sometimes does not happen and the follicles, which are filled with fluid to protect the egg, continue to stay attached to the ovary as a cyst. In some women these cysts can become quite large and painful, and even at risk of bursting which can lead to heavy blood loss, so it is important to learn to listen to your body… but don't frighten yourself, if you're concerned then go to your GP and request a scan.
There are three main features of PCOS, however diagnosis is usually based upon a woman having at least two of these features:
- Cysts that develop on your ovaries
- An increase of the 'male hormone' testosterone
- Irregular or non-existent ovulation
If you have Polycystic Ovaries but none of the other features, then it is unlikely you will be diagnosed with the syndrome and less likely to suffer the symptoms. However, you still may experience difficulty with your periods and trying to conceive.
I'm 29 years old and my symptoms started about 9 months ago. I've followed stories of other women who have been struggling with PCOS since their early teens, but also stories of more mature women. The symptoms that I personally have been suffering from are:
- Irregular and very light periods
- Excessive/dark hair growth (face, breasts, stomach)
- Difficulty losing weight (Insulin Resistance)
- Spotty face (acne)
- Mood swings (anxiety)
- Pain in the lower abdomen at various times in my cycle
- Difficulty getting pregnant
There are other symptoms, some women experience hair loss, sleep apnoea, high blood pressure and high cholesterol levels too. We can also have an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes. If you don't have PCOS you still may be able to relate to a lot of the symptoms during your normal menstrual cycle, but it's the intensity of these symptoms that make us PCOS girls suffer.
This area is a little hazy as doctors don't really know the cause… not very comforting is it?! I've read that it can be hereditary, however this isn't the case for me. I started experiencing symptoms at the beginning of 2015 and up until that point I never had any issues with my menstrual cycle. The biggest symptom that eventually pushed me to visit my doctor in May was the pain that I was having around my lower abdomen. For a few months I thought I might be pregnant. I haven't been on the pill for several years due to bad mood swings, so there was always a possibility, but all the tests kept coming back negative and I slowly started to realise that these sharp pains weren't normal and I shouldn't be experiencing them. When I had a scan to check everything out the nurse blurted out straight away "oh you've got Polycystic Ovaries!"… it was almost like she was excited to tell me. I asked her what could have caused it, but she just shrugged it off and said that no one really knows. Then I had some blood tests and chatted it through my doctor who said that my hormones are "all over the place" and hand-in-hand with the Polycystic Ovaries I was diagnosed with the syndrome. I think the healthiest thing we can do for ourselves is to just accept that we don't know what the cause is and move on… all those hours I've spent trying to find a cause by analysing the past few years of my life really have been pointless!
The sad truth is there is no cure for PCOS. There are various treatments for the symptoms, such as medication for excessive hair growth and fertility issues, but as to date there is no way to eliminate the condition. However, we can manage our symptoms and there is one easy peasy lemon squeezy way of doing this and that is through our general diet, health and fitness. Now I know this is easier said than done, but I have been there and I have made changes that have significantly improved my symptoms… so it does work!!!
If I'm honest, medication isn't something that I've looked into yet. However, my doctor did mention a few things when I was diagnosed. You can get tablets to help reduce acne and excessive hair growth, but currently I'm just making sure I remove my make up correctly, cleanse my face and moisturise. For the excessive/dark hair growth I choose to bleach, especially my upper lip… there's no chance I'm shaving that! I recently met a girl on holiday who had shaved her face but her hair grew back so thick that she started growing a bristly moustache and beard… so I would advise against this! One option my doctor suggested to help regulate my periods and encourage ovulation was to take oral contraceptives, however as we're looking to start a family in the near future she advised against this. There are fertility medicines and you can go down the route of IVF, but that's something I will explore later IF I HAVE TO… fingers crossed Hubs and I won't reach this point.
(Diet, health and fitness)
I'm not going to write too much about this point as the aim of my blog is to focus on this particular method of managing PCOS as it's my preferred choice. What I will say is that since June 2015, I made changes to my diet and introduced regular exercise into my day and I have seen significant improvements to my symptoms. The biggest one for me is that the pain is far less now than back in June. I was having pain every day and now I only experience it around (what I'm hoping is) ovulation. I generally feel better, healthier and I have more energy. I sleep better at night, I can count the number of bad days I have in a month on one hand and my periods have gone from a pathetic one day attempt to a healthy three/four day flow. I am incredibly proud of this last point, as a woman nearing 30 and hoping to start a family, this is a big achievement.
I understand that surgery is a real last resort option if you've exhausted everything else and are in a lot of pain. There is a procedure called Laparoscopic Ovarian Drilling which is a keyhole procedure designed to destroy the tissue that produces testosterone. The idea of this is that the testosterone levels will fall, thus improving your PCOS symptoms and encouraging the ovaries to release eggs once they are matured. I would hope that if you've been diagnosed with PCOS your doctor would have talked through this with you if they felt it was necessary.
In conclusion, PCOS does not just mean having cysts on your ovaries but a hell of a lot of other crap too! The real kicker is that we will all experience these symptoms in different ways and, as I've stressed before, we're all individuals and react differently to the ways in which we can manage this condition. What works for some will not always work for others, so in essence it is really hard for me to advise you on the best way to relieve your symptoms. BUT… if I can be brutally honest with you, it is only YOU who can make a change and YOU have to be focused and committed. There's no quick fix to this and it is something you will have to live with for the rest of your life. So take this opportunity, grab life by the balls and work on making every day easier for yourself to live. This doesn't have to intrude on your current life, just an alteration to make it a healthier lifestyle and there will be plenty of support for you… please don't suffer in silence.
I'll stop myself here as I can feel a motivational lecture about diet, health and fitness coming on and I really need to save some information for my other posts! I hope that this blog entry has given you a better understanding about PCOS and a little insight into how it has affected me, but of course, there will be more on that in another post… you lucky things!
Stay healthy, focused and happy…
xx Gem xx