In honor of National Women’s Health and Fitness Day today, I wanted to share my journey with PCOS. When I was around 20, I had my first “grown-up” physical. My mom took me and I went to see a doctor her and my step-dad were going to. He was a nice doctor and was extremely thorough. He ran some blood work on top of going over my history and doing a complete physical.
I always had irregular, heavy periods and had been overweight my whole life. A couple of weeks later we went back for my results and the doctor explained that I had Stein-Levanthal otherwise known as PCOS – Polycycstic Ovarian Syndrome. He explained to me that the tests showed a ratio of my hormones and mine was off the chart high. I can’t remember exact numbers at this point, but I know it was quite a bit above normal. He continued to explain to me that my body produced larger amounts of testosterone and that this diagnosis explained my menstrual problems. He then explained I would probably never be able to conceive a child. I think that was where the appointment stopped for me. I was in shock. That is definitely not what a young woman wants to hear.
Overtime, I had my first gynecological appointment where I had my first pelvic exam and they scheduled me for a ultrasound. Now in my naive mind, the only ultrasound I knew of was the kind my mom got when she was pregnant with my sisters. Little did I know, I had to have a vaginal ultrasound. Needless to say, it was a traumatic experience.
The ultrasound did not show any cysts, but the gynecologist did verify that I had PCOS, It did take many years to fully understand what my diagnosis entailed. For one thing, I was young and in college, so dealing with something like this was not a top priority. I did check out a few books and read what I could, but t did take a few years to understand more of the disease.
PCOS – What is it?
PCOS is a hormonal disorder in which the ovaries create an overabundance of androgens, or male hormones. The name Polycistic Ovarian Syndrome can be deceiving because it does not mean that your ovaries are full of cysts, but they can form. Becuase of the hormonal imbalance, PCOS can cause other metabolic problems, and because of the androgen production, the body contains less progesterone. This in turn causes irregular periods and often infertility. There is no known cure for PCOS but there are treatments that can help with symptoms. There also no known cause for PCOS but it can be linked to genes. In fact, I have several family memIbers with PCOS.
Symptoms & What has helped me.
I definitely suffer from irregular periods. Not all women suffer from all symptoms, but I believe this is the most common. I would go up to six months without a period. When I did get one, and even now, they are extremely heavy and painful. Medication is usually the best way to treat this symptom, either with birth control, progesterone, or metformin.
I have used all three. After I was diagnosed, I was on birth control for a few years. This helped with a couple of symptoms and kept my periods regular. I got off of it when I got married. I had not been using the birth control for birth control, and Sean and I wanted to try to have children.
Progesterone is a hormone that is taken for several days to start a period. I have done this a couple of times in severe situations to get a period started, but this is not a regular basis treatement.
Metformin, which I have been on for a few years, is generally a diabetes medicationi but it helps regulate the period and by doing so can help with infertility. When first starting metformin, it can cause some stomach problems, but that usually subsides within a few weeks.
I said before that I’ve been overweight my whole life. My Nana used to tell people that I was “big boned” to defend me. She was so cute. Before I knew I had a problem, I wasn’t sure why I was overweight. I didn’t over eat. I loved to ride my bike, go on walks, and play sports with my best friends. After being diagnosed, the worst news was the weight isn’t easy to get off. I still liked being active, and tried many diets, but if I even looked at something I shouldn’t eat, I swear I gained 5 pounds. I have been told by a doctor what takes an average person to lose 10 pounds, I lose one. You can see the struggle.
When I got sick with my autoimmune disorder, the weight got worse. Mainly because I wasn’t as active, as well as,my body tends to gain weight the less I eat. Yes, you did read that correctly. I’ll explain that in a minute.
Now not everyone that suffers from PCOS, has weight gain. Leighann from Leighann Says on YouTube was recently diagnosed with PCOS, and she did a great video which you can see here on her diagnosis.
Excess Insulin and Type II Diabetes.
This one is completely cause and effect. I have seen and heard that excess insulin is a cause of PCOS and that it is a symptom. This is where I said I gain weight the less I eat. Because I overproduce insulin, when I eat too little, things get wacky and my body starts storing food as fat and not fuel. Because of the insulin problems and weight gain/obesity, it puts a woman at a higher risk for Type II Diabetes. Limiting processed foods, foods high in carbs, and staying active are all ways to help with these problems.
Physical Changes… Acne, unwanted hair growth and thinning hair on the head.
I have had problems with all three. They all occur from the hormonal imbalances. I had a lot of large, painful acne when I was younger on my face and back. When I was on birth control it cleared up. After getting off of it, I still have the occasional breakout, but its not hnearly as bad.
I have some hairs that grow on my chin and neck that are dark and coarse. I usually tweeze these. They aren’t that bad, but unfortunately some women have to deal with unwanted hair on their face, arms, back, chest, abdomen, toes and thumbs.
As far as thinning hair, I do have a bald spot on the top front of my head. It has been really bad, and very thin. I have thin hair all over, but I have tried really hard to take care of my hair and scalp. Drinking my vitamins has helped, which I talked about in my GI disorders post.
Mood Swings, Anxiety, Depression, & Sleep Problems.
There was a study done by Columbia University, published in 2014, that links the psychiatric problems associated with PCOS to a women feeling less feminine. If you’d like to check that out you can here.
PCOS has been know to cause mood swings, anxiety and depression and sleep problems, like insomnia. I suffer from anxiety and depression, and recently did a post on how I deal with it. I never realized when I was first diagnosed that it could be linked to my PCOS, but it definitely makes sense. i also have insomnia which is a result of my anxiety. Over the past couple of months, I started taking melatonin and it has helped a lot with me falling asleep and staying asleep.
I saved this one for last because it is the hardest for me to talk about. Not only does PCOS cause infertility, there is also a higher risk for miscarriage. I have experience with both. I want nothing more in life to be a mother, and thankfully my pups, Darcy & Toby, help fill that void, but it is not the same. Having miscarried as well, makes this even harder. Knowing that a child was there, and is no longer is the hardest to understand.
I have been really trying hard to follow my doctor’s advice and due what I can to overcome this. I try my best to lose weight and I’ve been going through a lot of testing to make sure that there are no other underlying problems. Putting it into God’s hands is the best thing I can do, and I remind myself of that often. Adoption is not out of the question for us, and is an option we have been discussing. I have three beautiful brothers that are adopted, whom I wouldn’t trade for anything in the world.
I hope sharing my journey with PCOS will help one of you out there know that you are not alone. The struggle IS real. Please let me know if you have questions, or anything to share in the comments below. Thank you for taking the time to read about my journey.