A PCOS sufferer discusses what she has learned about her condition.
I know from experience that PCOS, short for Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, is generally misunderstood. It took twelve years for me to get a diagnosis and I have received so much conflicting advice over the years. It concerns me that so many women suffer silently for years, are misdiagnosed and are sometimes given advice which only aggravates their condition. I have learned that unfortunately I cannot rely on the advice of professionals who I should be able to trust. Since my final diagnosis, 9 years ago now, I have spent a great deal of time researching PCOS; its causes, its symptoms and what can be done to control the condition.
Some Symptoms of PCOS:
- Irregular periods
- Excess hair growth
- Difficulty in becoming pregnant
- Dizziness when the sufferer has not recently eaten
- Excess weight gain (particularly around the waist)
- Increased difficulty in losing weight
- Skin tags
- Thinning hair on the head
So, what is PCOS?
Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome is not a disease, but rather a collection of symptoms related to the condition. Many women have cysts on their ovaries, but the syndrome and associated symptoms only develop when the polycystic ovaries also produce excessive amounts of male hormones. It is these hormones which lead to the excess hair growth and acne which are associated with the condition. It has been proven that there is a link between PCOS and insulin resistance. Insulin is the hormone produced in the pancreas, which helps your body to turn sugars into energy. A polycystic ovarian sufferer can become resistant to insulin, leading to an excess of this hormone remaining in the body and causing elevated levels of androgens (male hormones).
Is PCOS dangerous?
PCOS is not a disease and it is not life-threatening. It can, however, lead to cardiovascular disease and Type 2 diabetes due to its associated symptoms. It is therefore important to keep the condition under control, not only for the sake of your fertility, but also for your future health.
So, what can be done to control PCOS?
This is this particular part where I have received conflicting advice. I would like to talk about a number of different treatments.
1. The contraceptive pill
This was the first treatment prescribed to me by my doctor. The pill can help to regulate an infrequent menstrual cycle and decrease the amount of androgens in the body, as they contain female hormones.
Personally, I would urge against the use of the contraceptive pill to control PCOS. I am not a doctor or specialist, and I can only talk from my own experience, but although the pill controlled the regularity of my periods for the duration I was taking them, as soon as I stopped my symptoms became immediately worse than before I had started. This concerned me should I wish to become pregnant.
2. Insulin-sensitising medications
After my final diagnosis, I was treated with Metformin, a drug administered to patients of type 2 diabetes. By lowering insulin levels, they can improve menstrual cycles.
From my personal experience, Metformin was very successful. My periods became regular within 3 months of starting the drug and remained equally as regular when I stopped. The negative side of the tablet is that it gave me an upset stomach if I did not take it regularly. I was then prescribed a slow release version of the pill, which released the drug slowly into my system over 24 hours, instead of giving me 3 'bursts' of it 3 times a day when I took the normal tablets. This improved the side effects no end.
3. Following a Low GI Diet
By eating foods which release sugar slowly into the bloodstream, it is possible to regulate the release of insulin by the pancreas. So, sorry about this PCOS sufferers, but it is very important to stay away from all sweets, cakes and processed food and eat foods which are as close to their natural state as possible. This means eating wholemeal breads and pasta, beans... and lots of fruit and vegetables (Raw if possible!) It is also a good idea to eat little and often. This will also help to regulate the body's release of insulin, as opposed to prompting a huge release during a large meal.
4. Other points to note...
The most disturbing part of PCOS to me is the excess hair growth. Embarrassingly I have suffered from excess hair on the face. I was prescribed medication to help with this, but I decided that despite the cost I would look into laser hair removal and IPL (Intense Pulsed Light). I have found IPL to be both effective and cost-effective and my symptoms are now greatly reduced.
I have found that by educating myself properly about my condition, I can control it. This does take time and effort, but it is worth it for the sake of my health. Better to eat properly and exercise now that have serious health problems in the future.