September is PCOS Awareness Month. PCOS stands for Poly Cystic Ovarian Syndrome and is an endocrine disorder with women. To spread some awareness of my own I want to put information out there to the world. I would like to start by saying I am certainly no expert or doctor of any sort, this is just from my own personal experience with PCOS. I’ve just been dealing with this illness for 13+ years now and I know how hard it can be, and I’ve read A LOT of literature on it. If you prefer not to know, don’t read. But for most of you, whether you know it or not, you know someone affected by PCOS. It is estimated that 1 in every 10 women have PCOS. However, PCOS can go undiagnosed. I consider myself lucky that I was diagnosed at a very young age, have very supportive people in my life, and a GREAT doctor. Women with PCOS suffer from a multitude of problems; here are some of the common issues:
-very irregular periods/cycles, some without ovulation, and sometimes a complete absence of a period
-painful periods with abnormal flow/severe cramping
-abnormal hormonal levels (increased testosterone)
-excessive body and/or facial hair
-scalp hair loss
-Poly Cystic Ovaries on ultrasound
-Infertility/troubles with pregnancy
-Overweight or obesity/difficulty losing weight
-elevated insulin levels
-fatigue/low vitamin D levels
-high blood pressure
-Anemia (iron deficiency)
-Diabetes (type 2)
**with an increased risk for other illnesses and complications such as: ovarian cancer, uterine cancer, endometrial cancer, endometriosis, hyperplasia, uterine fibroids/cyst, etc.
Some women may have many of all of these symptoms, others have very little symptoms.
FOR WOMEN WITH PCOS & THEIR PARTNERS/LOVED ONES:
Basic treatment involves seeing your OB/GYN or Reproductive Endocrinologist, possibly taking a birth control (such as a pill or nuva ring) to regulate your period and help with things such as cramps, acne, hair loss, etc. Occasionally, they may put you on Provera if you haven’t had a period for a long time or are having extreme cycles. This of course is if you’re not ready to conceive or not looking to conceive - there are other treatments for that but I will leave that to the experts. They’ll run blood test to make sure you’re not also diabetic (check your A1C levels) as many times type 2 diabetes and PCOS can be co-morbid. Many times, whether you have diabetes or not, your doctor may prescribe Metformin - this helps with making sure your body isn’t storing all the fat from the foods you are eating (as with many women with PCOS everything you eat becomes stored fat - hence the weight problems). Be aware of the side effects of Metformin. If you are having difficulty with fatigue (which is a HUGE problem for me), have your vitamin D levels checked. They might have you taking an extra dose to get it back to a normal, healthy level. Of course talk to your doctor first, but I know a HUGE win for me was taking a good women’s multi vitamin with extra calcium and iron, and folic acid (as they now say for women who plan to get pregnant some day we should start taking this LONG before having a child). Stay on top of it, don’t let it be pushed to the back burner because you’d rather just deal with the pain and problems, it can have long term effects on your health. Keep your doctor updated on any changes. You’re going to have REALLY bad days and its going to get in the way of the rest of your life at times, you’re not alone – I promise. If you’re with someone - make sure the person you’re with is supportive and understands what you’re going through. My advice for diet – don’t think of it as a diet, think of it as just making better, healthier choices, and a lifestyle change. Lots of water, lower your carb intake (especially the bread and the pasta, keep the fruit carbs earlier in the day). CUT SUGAR, as much as you can. Soda – kick it or at least cut down A LOT. Diet soda is worse. Don’t eat too late. Get your protein! I love an egg and an apple in the morning for breakfast (did you know an apple provides you more of an energy boost than the caffeine in a cup of coffee? And that’s a tough pill to swallow because coffee is my favorite thing.) Processed and canned foods are loaded with chemicals and I’ve read that they’re now finding canned foods are BIG factor with infertility, so I try to avoid as much as I can. Get things fresh and local if you can! That’s a general life tip! Get SLEEP. Don’t over-do it on the sleep, but your body needs it. Especially when your body is waging a war against you (you ladies know what I mean). Exercise – this is the toughest one for me, because I’m lazy and always feel exhausted anyways. However, I really have found doing low impact stuff, swimming, yoga, walking outside gets my energy levels up and I’m not sore afterwards. I know almost nothing about exercise but it is EXTREMELY difficult to lose weight for most women with PCOS, and without a healthy lifestyle that includes good food habits/choices and exercise – you’re doomed. So with that I would recommend seeing a dietician or getting involved in a weight loss program – whatever is better for you. Most importantly, reach out for support when needed. Educate yourself and don’t be ashamed of it. There are many MANY sites, groups on Facebook, and resources that are here for help.
Below are some links I often visit for support/information. I plan on writing on my personal experience by the end of the month, which will be very revealing and graphic so I apologize now to those of you who know me and are curious. But! I feel so many people have shared their information with me and it is beneficial to both parties; the knowledge, story, and support is spread, and the process of sharing is therapeutic. Best of luck to you fellow cysters!