Warning: I’m about to get all biological and anatomical when discussing lady business (like Aunt Flo), so if that makes you squeamish, I suggest you not read on.
About two years ago, I was diagnosed with a medical condition called polycystic ovary syndrome, commonly known as PCOS.
What is PCOS?
It is an endocrine disorder that affects hormones (among other things), meaning that women who have it can produce too many androgens, (or “male” hormones) which can create all kinds of problems. It is estimated that between 5-10% of women of childbearing age have this disease.
What are the symptoms/effects of PCOS?
The main thing that PCOS affects is ovulation and the menstrual cycle. Women who have PCOS often have cysts on their ovaries (hence the name) and often have extremely irregular or non-existent menstrual periods, which can affect fertility. Women with PCOS also have a higher chance of miscarrying or giving birth prematurely, and pregnant women with PCOS are more likely to develop gestational diabetes or preeclampsia.
Besides affecting reproductive health and the menstrual cycle, women with PCOS can also suffer from ovarian cysts, hirsutism (increased hair growth on face, torso, feet, hands, chest, stomach and back), acne, oily skin, dandruff, weight gain (usually gaining weight around the middle), thinning hair or male-pattern baldness, thick and dark patches of skin on the neck, arms and breasts, skin tags, pelvic pain, anxiety or depression and sleep apnea.
Women with PCOS are also more likely to have high blood pressure, to have a heart attack or to have high bad (LDL) and low good (HDL) cholesterol. Additionally, 50% of women with PCOS will develop diabetes or pre-diabetes by the age of 40. Scary, scary stuff.
Why are you talking about this on a weight loss blog?
Well, because polycystic ovary syndrome has lots to do with weight. It is currently not known whether being overweight or obese can cause PCOS, but it is known that having PCOS can cause a woman to gain weight (and make it much harder to lose). I accept that my life choices have caused me to struggle with my weight, but I do wonder whether having this condition has caused extra weight gain.
The point is that PCOS is very much related to health. Reproductive health and fertility, of course, but also general health. Truthfully, not a lot is known about the causes of PCOS and, as of right now, there is no cure. Some researchers believe that it has something to do with insulin, but there really isn’t a lot known about this disorder.
What is known, however, is that exercise and a healthy diet can help immensely. Even just a loss of 10% body weight can help to regulate the menstrual cycle. Birth control pills can help as well, but being at a healthy weight seems to be the most effective treatment at the moment. I am lucky that I have only experienced a few of the symptoms that I mentioned above (and those have been relatively mild) and that it has not affected my general health, but I am scared that in the future I might develop heart problems, high blood pressure, high cholesterol or diabetes, or that it will affect my ability to have children or to carry a baby to term. Staying at my current weight is not an option. Unfortunately, PCOS can make it more difficult to lose weight, but I think that I have been doing very well so far and I am hoping that my journey will continue as I go forward.
If you have PCOS and are reading this, I hope that you know that you are not alone. There are many, many women out there who suffer from this disease. Unfortunately, I find the medical community at large to be very hush hush about women’s health issues, particularly reproductive health. For example, I started having issues when I was 14. I was dismissed by several doctors (none of whom ever bothered to run tests) before I finally found my current doctor, who put me through a battery of tests so that I could finally get a proper diagnosis. It infuriates me that it took so long for someone to finally take me seriously enough to fully investigate, as opposed to telling me to just go on the pill and not addressing the root cause.
I wanted to talk about this because it is extremely relevant to my weight loss journey and, to be honest, it’s nice to talk about it. It’s not something that I feel comfortable sharing with most people in my life, so the veil of anonymity that I have on the World Wide Web makes it easier. Thanks for listening.
If you have PCOS and you feel comfortable, please feel free to share in the comments. Cheers.