PCOS is one of the most common hormonal problems seen in women and many may not even know they have it. In this article, gynecologists help us understand it’s basics and how to cope, and I share my own PCOS experience.
As a nineteen-year-old with PCOS (Polycystic Ovary Syndrome), I soon realized that there’s a lot that people do not know about this condition. In fact, many aren’t even aware that such a condition exists. This makes it difficult for women who have to deal with it on a daily basis. It is so because they rarely feel understood and some get it diagnosed too late. The PCOS experience for me was somewhat similar.
My PCOS was diagnosed at the age of thirteen, a year after I got my menstrual cycle. My mother being a doctor, noticed a mild case of acanthosis, which is basically the darkening of skin folds on the body like elbows, knuckles, back of the neck and so on. Acanthosis is a symptom of insulin resistance, which is found in PCOS patients. Soon after, I started gaining weight and my cycle became a little irregular.
Although I did not have heavy symptoms, my mother took me to a few skin doctors and a gynaecologist, who after a few hormone tests, diagnosed it as Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, that is, PCOS. So now it’s been almost seven years since I started my journey of managing and learning to live with PCOS. And there are a few things that everyone should know about it, either for themselves or for others.
What is PCOS? How is It Different from PCOD?
“PCOS is Polycystic Ovary Syndrome which is one of the most common hormonal disorders in women these days, with about 10% of women (varies according to lifestyle changes in different parts of the world) experiencing some or the other symptom of PCOS. Some people aren’t even aware that these symptoms may indicate PCOS. Women with PCOS produce higher levels of male hormones than the normal amount. All women have male hormones present in their bodies and they place a very important role. It is their imbalance that causes the levels to rise. This disturbs one’s hormonal profile, which results in a string of different symptoms,” says Dr. Pankaj Sarode, a Gynaecologist from Pune.
The ‘cysts’ are actually eggs that were not released as ovulation did not occur, as a result of which they remain in the ovary, appearing as ovarian cysts.
PCOD, or Polycystic Ovary Disease, is a milder form of a disease restricted to ovarian pathology, which means it is limited to the ovaries whereas PCOS is a syndrome. PCOD is one of the components of PCOS.
There is a long list of symptoms for PCOS, but a few of the most common ones are:
• Irregular menstrual cycle (normally it should be between 21-35 days, 28 being the average, but women with PCOS experience a longer gap between cycles)
• Hirsutism (excessive body hair and male patterned facial hair)
• Insulin resistance
• Easy weight gain
• Thinning hair
• High cholesterol levels
Symptoms for PCOS may vary from person to person, and a single person may not even have all of the symptoms. Awareness about these symptoms can help an early diagnosis and help treat the problem better and sooner.
For tracking your period, you can also read: 7 Best Period Tracker Apps to Keep Track of Your PMS & Ovulation Cycle
My PCOS Experience
When I was first diagnosed with PCOS, I was barely thirteen and it didn’t mean much to me except for the fact that it made me look not so pretty and I had all these restrictions that I didn’t see anyone else having to deal with. This gave way to a lot of anger and irritation, mood swings and whining. At thirteen itself my self esteem started dropping. But eventually things got better, with a more active lifestyle and clean eating, I lost the extra weight and my hormonal profiles stopped fluctuating.
My problems surfaced again in high school when I gained weight again and as an eighteen year old, I felt even worse because everyone around me was starting to look their best, while I struggled to even go back to my old self. And again the one thing that helped me was turning to a healthier way of living.
Dealing with PCOS
The most common advice I got after my diagnosis was to keep a healthy BMI and avoid a “sluggish” lifestyle. As a thirteen-year-old, this did not feel like a very agreeable solution and it often angered me to hear all the doctors say so. It made me feel like I was lazy, which I was sure I wasn’t. But here’s the deal. People with PCOS need to be more careful than others about what they eat and how active their lifestyle is. This meant that I needed to do something more than I saw other girls my age do, in order to get my body to function better.
PCOS for me has often been about questioning why I need to do things differently, when everyone else was doing just fine without all that extra effort. And growing up I have understood that it is the only way to keep this condition at bay.
Diet and Exercise
Regular workout like jogging or dancing, playing some sport, plays a huge role in maintaining a healthy lifestyle and being more active. “PCOS is a lifestyle disorder, changing your lifestyle is one of the best ways to reduce the effects of this disorder”, Dr. Sarode further elucidates.
Another thing that I was advised to do was reduce my intake of bakery products, which generally have a high level of gluten in them. Again, this comes under lifestyle management, since what you eat directly impacts your body. Reducing the intake of greasy and junk food can also help manage cholesterol levels. Diet and exercise are the major components of managing PCOS. High fiber low carb diet and regular active aerobic exercise play a huge role in reducing the effects of PCOS on one’s body.
“PCOS is generally diagnosed in adolescents and young adults. Awareness about the symptoms and timely diagnosis can help to execute necessary changes as early as possible. If there are any issues related to one’s menstrual cycle, it is better to consult a doctor about them. PCOS is a potentially serious issue that leads to many lifestyle disorders later in life like diabetes, hypertension, heart diseases, joint issues and so on. So early treatment or even prevention is better than treating all these issues that PCOS can morph into,” explains Dr. Sarode.
PCOS and Body Image
PCOS has a lot of effects on the body that one may not wish for. The visible symptoms of PCOS are very undesirable and can result in low self-esteem and discomfort. Many women have related to not feeling confident enough due to the physical effects of this syndrome. According to a study by Cardiff University, it was found that women with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome are more likely to suffer from mental health problems. Some women also associated these mental health issues with feeling down and low, and wanting to be like other girls.
Some of the most common physical symptoms are:
The excessive male patterned growth of hair in women is called hirsutism. This is a direct symptom of hormonal imbalance where the body produces more male hormones than it is supposed to. Generally, this results in visible facial hair, which is not desired by most women.
During my early stages of diagnosis, my hormone levels were not disturbed enough for this symptom to appear. But when I gained weight in my final year of high school, I noticed an increase in facial hair, especially the upper lip area and sideburns. Usually, waxing and threading are very accessible options and seemed to work for me. But later I would have redness of skin and rash on the sides of my face. This made me look around for alternative treatments, which guided me towards laser hair removal.
Laser hair removal is an option which might not work the same for everyone. A blog I read alerted me to its ill effects, which I thankfully did not encounter. In some females, the laser treatment can even cause an increase in growth of facial hair, increasing the severity of the problem. The key is to have all your other internal body symptoms in control before you tackle the exterior physical symptoms. I had lost a significant amount of weight, 22 pounds, and had completely normal hormone levels before I started my laser treatment for my sideburns. It takes more than one sitting for this treatment to take effect. And like a lot of other PCOS related things, it takes a lot of patience.
Acne is a visible and recurring symptom in a lot of women battling PCOS. The oil glands in the facial region produce more oil. This is a result of imbalance in production of hormones by the ovaries. This can be managed at home by natural and simple methods. Tea tree oil based mild face wash or frequent washing of face with plain water prevents greasy or dry skin. Home remedies should also be done with care. One must keep in mind that no two women with PCOS are the same. Neither in terms of treatment nor the root problem.
For other cures, one can consult a skin specialist with proper history of PCOS being given to the doctor. A lot of lotions and medicines are available for the excessive acne but should only be used with proper prescription.
“The hormonal profile of the patient must be carefully studied before they can go any further with the treatment part. This is because the cause for PCOS related issues like acne, thinning of hair and such requires different treatment as opposed to the occurrence of these issues in people without PCOS,” explains Dr. Kirti Deo, a Dermatologist from Pune.
Weight Gain and Obesity
One of the most common symptoms of PCOS is extreme and rapid weight gain and obesity. This can be easily tackled as previously mentioned, by active workouts and a well-maintained diet. Women with PCOS might also find it difficult to lose weight. But the one advice that all doctors give as it directly impacts the hormonal changes in the body, is to lose weight. The weight loss should be healthy and well-paced. Losing weight has many unhealthy ways that can cause a new set of health issues. Consulting a nutritionist can also be helpful.
How to Cope with PCOS?
Managing PCOS is a long and tedious journey that requires patience and the understanding that it is there to stay. Dealing with it positively with proper help can ensure that it is in control and that your body is healthy. There are a lot of PCOS forums where people can connect with each other and find it easier to deal with this syndrome. It helps to know that they are not alone in their struggles and there are people around who understand what they are going through.
Talking about it to close family and friends can also make one feel supported, which is necessary if your self-esteem plummets. Everyone around seems to be perfect and “normal” while you keep questioning why things are different for you. It takes a long time to feel comfortable in your own skin, especially with social media, which creates an illusion of people with perfect bodies. But being consistent with your efforts and accepting some things can go a long way.
PCOS doesn’t have to be a constant struggle if you are successful in finding lifestyle changes that suit you and that you can maintain for a longer period. Another helpful thing is to surround yourself with people who care about and understand you. People who are a positive influence in your life.
One should also keep in mind that everyone has a different genetic makeup. Many people may not even be aware of their hidden or potential issues. It is a good thing that yours have surfaced early in life. It allows you to work on them and gives you the time and practice to learn to keep them in control.
Moreover, it is important to know that it’s okay if you need to take more efforts than the people around you. It’s okay if you need to work harder for things. You must do what your body needs and every individual’s body is different. The key is to find a solution that keeps you, body and mind, healthy; as nothing is more important than this.
Have you or a close one been diagnosed with PCOS, or noticed any symptoms? Leave us your comments below and let us know about your PCOS experience.
Sakshi Lokhande is a Fashion Journalist Intern at ShilpaAhuja.com. She is currently pursuing her Bachelor’s degree in Fashion Communication at National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT), Bhubaneswar.
She’s always loved reading, especially mythology and fiction, which soon gave way for her love for writing; the two hobbies she owes her huge glasses to. She is passionate about writing things that impact people’s lives or are helpful to people in some way or the other. Sakshi also loves to dance and has been very active in cultural activities since her childhood. She enjoys jogging as it helps her clear her head and she often gets a lot of ideas for her design work and her writing while jogging too.
Having lived in Pune city for as long as she can remember, she has great love for old forts, architectural structures and old libraries, mixed with the fast-paced city life. This made her want to write things people would want to stop and read. To find a bit of themselves in her words, to slow down and take a breather.
Due to her college activities, she has also developed a lot of interest in slow fashion and sustainability. Sakshi’s everyday look includes boot cut jeans, graphic tees and wedges, paired with tiny earrings and maroon lipstick.