- What’s PCOS?
- What Are The First Signs Of PCOS? (PCOS Symptoms)
- How to Diagnose PCOS?
- Can You Get Rid of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome?
- What Are The Long Term Effects Of Polycystic Ovaries?
- Can You Get Pregnant with PCOS?
- What Is The Difference Between PCOS And High Testosterone?
- What Is The Difference Between PCOS And Cushing’s?
- What Is The Difference Between PCOS And Hashimoto’s?
- What’s The Youngest Age To Be Tested For PCOS?
- Can Someone With PCOS Get Pregnant Naturally?
- Is PCOS Life Threatening?
- Is PCOS A Lifelong Disease?
- Does PCOS Get Worse With Age?
- Can PCOS Be Cured By Losing Weight?
- Can You Still Have Regular Periods With PCOS?
- Putting It All Together
“You have PCOS…”, my OB GYN’s voice resonates in my mind as I look back to 2013 when I was first diagnosed with this syndrome.
I reckon how I lived anxiously for three months prior to consultation, worrying if I’m pregnant or not because my period suddenly decided to go MIA and I was gaining weight!
After pregnancy tests came back as negative, I finally decided to see a doctor to get some answers. It felt like I was poured with ice cold water when the doctor read my diagnosis.
What’s PCOS? How common is PCOS? Am I doomed with this for life? Worry started to flood my mind.
Apart from taking medications to jumpstart my weight loss and regulate my period, I equipped myself with more knowledge about this condition, positive that with determination and discipline, I can turn things around and be the best version of me (health wise!).
Fast forward to 2018, here I am totally on top of my PCOS! If I was able to do it, so can you! How? Let’s start with getting a deeper understanding of what PCOS is.
Polycystic Ovary Syndrome or PCOS is a hormonal problem affecting women of childbearing age (ranging from 15-44 years old). It is caused by an overproduction of the male hormone (androgen) which directly affects our menstrual period.
Because of this, women who have PCOS experience delays in their period or a lack of it. The ovaries may also form small fluid-filled sacs called “follicles” and fail to release an egg regularly.
According to my doctor, these follicles will decrease in size and disappear when I start losing weight.
Her calming words were: “Don’t worry, these follicles don’t turn into a cyst or cancer. They disappear as soon as you lose weight” —> Like as if she was reading my mind!
PCOS affects 1 in 10 women of childbearing age. You are definitely not alone! What’s alarming is the fact that almost 70% of women have undiagnosed PCOS, which is really risky.
Why? Because if you don’t know you have it, you won’t change your ways (sedentary lifestyle, unhealthy food, etc.) and this may eventually put you at risk for heart diseases and type 2 diabetes (not scaring you, but that’s the truth!).
What is The Main Cause of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome?
Up to now, the main cause of PCOS is still unidentified. But experts believe that increased androgen may be the culprit (as it is a constant across all PCOS cases).
This can be caused by the following factors:
- Insulin Resistance
- Increased Level of Inflammation
What Are The First Signs Of PCOS? (PCOS Symptoms)
Some of the most common symptoms of PCOS are the following:
- Irregular Periods – The first sign of PCOS is women having less than 8 menstrual periods a year or nothing at all. If you know you’re not pregnant and yet you’re delayed for a month or two (or more!), consult your gynecologist.
- Hirsutism – This refers to the excessive growth of dark and coarse unwanted hair on the face and body. Want to know more about Hirsutism and how to combat these pesky, fast growing hair? Check out my article on Hirsutism here.
- Acne – Are you having flare-ups lately? If you’re getting a bad case of acne on your face, upper back and chest area, girl, it might not be a simple allergic reaction nor stress. Remember, increased level of inflammation = high androgen, which could lead to PCOS.
- Thinning hair (hair fall) – Shedding quite a lot of hair? Are you starting to see bald spots on your scalp? It’s sad, I know. After all, our hair not only shows our individuality but also exudes youthfulness. If you’re worried about losing them all (I hope not), I may just have the answer to grow them back to the right thickness and health. Read more about Laser Hair Growth devices.
- Gaining Weight – Ok, maybe you’ve binged and “treated” yourself for working so hard every day, but girl, if you’re packing on pounds faster than you could chew (of course, I’m just exaggerating, but you get the picture), then maybe it’s time to go see your doc. I wasn’t even able to tell I was gaining weight until my clothes got tighter and I started hyperventilating going up a full flight of stairs, I’m not a big fan of the weighing scale after all.
- Skin Darkening – If you notice skin darkening along the creases of your neck, on your groin area or under your breasts, girl, that’s not just your shadow! Melasma or hyperpigmentation can be a telltale sign that you have PCOS and no amount of whitening creams will work until you resolve the underlying cause.
- Skin Tags – Notice some unsightly flaps of skin on your neck and underarms? These tags may be a sign that you have PCOS. Don’t worry though, these can be easily removed via minor surgery or over the counter topical solutions.
How to Diagnose PCOS?
While there is no specific PCOS test, doctors may carry out the following tests to help diagnose PCOS:
- Physical Exam – Includes checking your blood pressure, body mass index (BMI), the size of your waist and any physical symptoms such as hirsutism, acne, skin discoloration, skin tags, and enlarged clitoris.
- Pelvic Ultrasound – This test is used to check the lining of your womb (endometrium) as well as your ovaries. With the help of this test, your doctor will be able to confirm your PCOS via the appearance of follicles or diagnose any anomalies in your reproductive organ should a cyst or lump be spotted.
- Blood Exam – Your doctor may request a blood exam to check for an increase in androgen, see if your thyroid hormones are balanced, check if your cholesterol and glucose levels are putting you at risk for heart problems and diabetes.
Can You Get Rid of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome?
At the moment there is no specific cure for PCOS.
You and your doctor can work on a treatment plan that will help manage and alleviate your symptoms, fertility workup (if having a baby is part of your plan) and lessen the risk of long-term health problems.
Most women would need a combination of the following treatment:
- Such as hormonal birth control pills, rings, IUDs
- Anti-androgen medicines
- Metformin (I was given this not because I am diabetic, but more on to jumpstart my weight loss)
Healthy Lifestyle Changes and Home Care:
- Losing weight through healthy eating and exercise.
- Removing unwanted hair (my hair removal part of this blog offers a lot of info on how to remove unwanted hair!).
- Slowing hair growth (for people with Hirsutism).
- Scalp hair growth using special scalp treatments and laser therapy.
- Using period tracker apps to note your cycle for your doc’s reference.
What Are The Long Term Effects Of Polycystic Ovaries?
If left undiagnosed, PCOS may cause a multitude of diseases such as:
- High Cholesterol
- High Blood Pressure
- Endometrial Cancer
- Sleep Apnea
- Depression and Anxiety
Even if PCOS is not in your genes, you are still at risk especially if you’re living a sedentary lifestyle with a poor diet.
I know for a fact that not because I got cleared from PCOS (are at least the follicles in my ovaries are gone), does it mean it won’t go back.
This is why you need to change your old ways and adapt to a healthier lifestyle. Make it into a habit, it may just save your life!
Can You Get Pregnant with PCOS?
The answer is, absolutely! The key to getting pregnant is regulating your menstrual cycle, something which is very treatable. Ask your doctor to help you explore ways to get you ovulating and increase your chances of getting preggo.
What Is The Difference Between PCOS And High Testosterone?
Testosterone, which is a type of androgen (or male hormone), is naturally produced by a woman’s body. However, excessive levels of this hormone contribute to having PCOS as it alters our body’s signal to ovulate.
Thus, women with raised testosterone level may skip their menstrual period and possess male-patterned symptoms such as unwanted hair, acne, and hair loss.
Blood tests can confirm both total and free testosterone levels in our body. Another male hormone that may be checked is DHEA-S (or dehydroepiandrosterone – I know it’s lengthy!), another naturally occurring hormone in our body.
Women diagnosed with PCOS are shown to have high levels of either one (or both) of these hormones.
What Is The Difference Between PCOS And Cushing’s?
Cushing’s syndrome is primarily caused by an increase in the stress hormone, Cortisol. This could either be because our body produces excessive amounts of it or due to a prolonged exposure to corticosteroid drugs such as Prednisone.
While most symptoms of Cushing’s are similar to that of PCOS (acne, missed periods, hirsutism and weight gain around the trunk area), there are certain characteristics that can differentiate one from the other.
Women diagnosed with Cushing’s have what’s commonly called as a “round moon face” and a “buffalo hump”.
Such features were not noted in women with PCOS. At the moment, it is still being studied whether PCOS can later develop into Cushing’s or if it’s the other way around.
What Is The Difference Between PCOS And Hashimoto’s?
Hashimoto’s and PCOS are known to be linked by one or more molecular functions and genetic make-up.
However, just like Cushing’s, it is still being studied whether one condition triggers the other and how having both syndromes can affect our overall health.
Treatments such as taking Metformin and avoiding Estrogen-rich food (such as soy products and flax seeds) are known to normalize elevated TSH (Thyroid Stimulating Hormones) levels, which is one of the major characteristics of people with Hashimoto’s.
What’s The Youngest Age To Be Tested For PCOS?
As some girls experience puberty and get their first period quite early (scientifically called as “Precocious Puberty”), they can be tested for PCOS as soon as symptoms start to show.
Girls who started menstruating quite early are more prone to getting PCOS during their adolescence or later on in life.
Can Someone With PCOS Get Pregnant Naturally?
The answer is a big YES! All you need to do is to consult your OBGYN so that she/he can create a fertility workup or plan for you.
Don’t worry, your reproductive system is fine, it’s just that the female hormones that trigger ovulation are overpowered by the male hormones.
Your doctor will prescribe the best medication to keep your hormones well regulated, triggering ovulation and increasing your chances of conception.
Is PCOS Life Threatening?
PCOS, if diagnosed, treated and managed well (with healthy lifestyle changes and regular doctor’s visit), is not life-threatening.
If undiagnosed or left untreated, it may lead to life-threatening conditions such as diabetes, heart attack, stroke, etc. Early detection is always the key!
Is PCOS A Lifelong Disease?
Yes, it is. BUT! The symptoms can easily be treated and managed.
For me, after losing weight (from diet and exercise), I noticed that my period became more regular sans having to take birth control pills. I still experience hair fall but not as much as I did before. Unwanted hair? Nothing that IPL and waxing can’t handle!
Does PCOS Get Worse With Age?
No, it does not. What can worsen it is if you left yourself untreated, you made no positive lifestyle changes and you start to develop other diseases due to PCOS.
Can PCOS Be Cured By Losing Weight?
It can definitely lessen the symptoms, but it is still there lurking in the corners, waiting for you to gain weight again (jk!).
I want to say I’m PCOS-free mainly because my doc confirmed that the follicles (water filled sacs) are gone and my period has been regular for years now but I know the chances of experiencing the symptoms again is still there.
So, PCOS-free is just a mindset I created based on how I feel!
Can You Still Have Regular Periods With PCOS?
Yes, you can! Like I did! Consult with your Doc first so she/he can prescribe you with some meds to help regulate your period.
Putting It All Together
What’s PCOS? It’s a group of symptoms, all of which are totally manageable with medication, home care, and lifestyle changes. As soon as you take control of your life and not let PCOS control you, there’s nothing to be afraid of.
Always remember, you are not alone. There are a lot of PCOS groups and information found not only on the internet but in your local doctor’s office as well. Go for a check!
Like the saying goes “prevention is always better than cure”.
What’s your PCOS story? Share it in the comment box below and let’s provide one another with knowledge, encouragement, and support. Till the next article!