Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, or PCOS for short, is a disease that affects 1 in 10 women. It is a genetic trait due to a hormonal imbalance that is lifelong, and as there is no cure, the only thing that can be done is to reduce the symptoms of the disease. Since it is PCOS Awareness Month, I figured I would share what my experience of living with PCOS has been like.
Growing up, I always felt like there was something wrong. When I first got my period in middle school, it was always very irregular. I got it before any of my other friends and the time of the month it would come was never consistent. Some months it would be early, some months it would be late, some months I would have 2 periods, some I would have none. Some were extremely painful and lasted up to 7 days, while some were 2 days and painless. From middle school until I got to high school, my mom and my doctors told me that it was typical because some bodies just take a few years to adjust to having a monthly visit from Aunt Flo. Not typical, however, was how often I missed school or sports practices or choir and theatre rehearsals because of the pain that came with my period. Most women experience period cramps at some point in their life, but the scale in which the pain comes varies from woman to woman from month to month. Mine was, on a scale of 1 to 10, typically a 7, but some months, it would be a 9 or a 10. I took pain medications constantly and even laying in my bed was painful. I used heating pads and took all kinds of medications, but even that wasn’t enough.
Throughout this time, I also had a lot of metabolism problems. My weight would fluctuate in great amounts from year to year. I would lose 20 pounds in a month, then gain it all back plus more. Sometimes I would lose a lot of weight with little effort and other times I would go to the gym with a trainer, count calories, and eat better and still would not lose weight. My mom and doctors didn’t understand what was happening because I had always lived a healthy lifestyle.
I had taken tons of blood tests over the years for all kinds of medical issues to see if some reason would come up as to why I had so much trouble losing weight and keeping it off no matter what I did, but every test came back completely normal. It wasn’t until the summer after my senior year of high school when my doctors finally figured out what was wrong with me. I was going on vacation with my family and my period was 3 months late (I know, crazy, right?) and I knew I was NOT pregnant, so I went to the doctor before my trip to find out what was wrong. After talking to a doctor about my period’s 3-month hiatus as well as my fluctuation in weight, I took more tests and they finally determined that I had PCOS and that it was due to a hormonal imbalance in my body. I also then found out that it’s not only genetic in that it’s an imbalance I have, but it’s also a hereditary issue that my mom and aunt both have as well, and is most likely where it came from. At 18 years old, I was diagnosed with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome.
SO WHAT IS PCOS?
PCOS is exactly what its name entails, and more. It essentially means that the carrier of the disease could develop cysts on their ovaries due to what the disease does to their body. Typically these cysts are non-cancerous, however, if they do develop and are cancerous, (which is more typical in older women) they then would have and be treated for Ovarian Cancer. Another aspect of PCOS is that due to hormone imbalance, you can have more acne issues or more body and facial hair than the usual person without PCOS. What PCOS also means (and what it means in my case) is that when your hormones are imbalanced, it affects your reproductive system and your metabolism. Because my hormones are not at level, it means that I could potentially have trouble having kids in the future, which happened with both my mom and my aunt. I would then have to seek medical assistance from a fertility doctor with either hormone treatments or other options when it is time for me to have kids. Living with PCOS means that at 20 years old, I have to start thinking about having children and what it would take for me to even have kids as well as how much it would cost for me to if I have fertility issues. With the reproductive system, that is why I had such a long break in between periods, or multiple periods a month, because when your hormones are going crazy, and you don’t have anything to regulate it, your cycle can be all over the place, and the irregularity causes pain. As for your metabolism, your metabolism is how your body breaks down and burns fat but with a hormonal imbalance, your body is more likely to store fat instead of burning it which can lead to weight gain and obesity. That’s why no matter how much I exercised or how little unhealthy foods I ate, I wasn’t enough to lose weight normally and keep it off over long periods of time.
SO HOW DO YOU TREAT PCOS?
It may not be curable, but at least it is treatable. Eating right and exercising is very important for people living with PCOS or people who have a family history of POSC to hopefully avoid or reduce the signs and symptoms that come with the disease. Another important part of treatment that helps to subside the reproductive system issues is the use of birth control. I had never thought about going on the pill before, but my doctor recommended it when she diagnosed me with PCOS. Now, what does the pill have to do with PCOS? Answer: Everything. Birth control is a mode of getting extra hormones in to the body and those hormones are what fight against unwanted pregnancy, but they also make up for a lack of estrogen in the body. If your hormones are imbalanced, which typically means that the testosterone in your body is actually higher than your estrogen levels, the added estrogen in the pill levels out in your body and helps to make sure you know approximately when you period is coming. Since going on the pill, my monthly period is more or less around the same time every month and the pain is virtually nonexistent. Since being on the pill, I have been able to lose weight and keep my weight relatively the same, and even a little bit lower, for the past year now.
As far as diseases go, PCOS is something that affects many women every day and is a lifelong disease, but it is something that does not have to put your life on hold. As long as you eat healthy, exercise, monitor your health, and talk to your doctor about medication for PCOS, you should be able to live a normal life. Of course, your doctor will tell you what your specific course of action to take is when you get diagnosed, but living a typical, healthy lifestyle is the best way to keep your symptoms minimal and stay as healthy as possible.
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