Like all other girls, I got my first period in my early teenage years. We learn about what it is and what to expect from the women in our lives—our moms, older sisters or cousins, aunts, grandmothers—and also from science and biology classes in school. We all know what it is and why it happens. But when something goes awry, such as an irregularity to the cycles, heavy menses, acne growth or weight gain, we start asking more questions. Is this normal?
My personal experience was mostly centered on an irregular cycle. I was about 17 or 18, and since it was a symptom that ran in some women in my family, I was encouraged to go see an obstetrician-gynecologist (OB-GYN). An ultrasound confirmed what my doctor had initially thought: I had a condition called polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). According to Cochrane, an online resource that synthesizes health research information, PCOS affects 5-10% of women of reproductive age.
Apart from those listed above, the PCOS Awareness Association mentions other common symptoms such as fatigue, weight gain, sleep problems, pelvic pain, and headaches. All of which I have experienced quite regularly when I was first diagnosed.
Because it’s PCOS Awareness Month, I dug up some information following interviews with an OB-GYN, and through periodicals online. This is not a substitute, of course, for a conversation with your own doctor.
1. It’s a myth that PCOS cannot be treated.
A common misconception is that PCOS is not treatable and that PCOS patients cannot conceive. While it may not be an avoidable condition, there are ways to treat this condition and still lead a very healthy lifestyle. Keeping informed is a great start.
The first line of management, as my OB-GYN once told me, is diet and lifestyle modification. Regular exercise and healthy eating can help you keep to your ideal weight and improve your insulin resistance.
I can attest to the great wonders of exercise—whether it be yoga or spin classes—and choosing leafy greens instead of a greasy burger every now and then. It did very well for me.
2. PCOS can cause difficulty in pregnancy, but does not make it an impossibility.
My OB-GYN noted that one of the effects of the condition was that I could have difficulty with getting pregnant. PCOS patients are prone to that because of our anovulatory cycles, when ovulation does not take place during a menstrual cycle. Obesity and insulin resistance, which are common symptoms of patients with PCOS, may also have a great impact of fertility.
While it can pose a hurdle for patients trying to get pregnant, it does not make it impossible. Studies abound on how to manage it, and how to best work towards building a family. Working with your OB-GYN can help, as well as getting a referral to a specialist.
3. See your OB-GYN when you regularly experience PCOS symptoms.
PCOS patients experience a myriad of symptoms, from amenorrhea to abnormally heavy menses. If you experience these, it’s best to see your gynecologist. I’m glad and fortunate that I was able to speak to an OB-GYN back when I first experienced these symptoms. It started my path to treatment and awareness at a young age. It also makes you self-aware of what your body is trying to tell you, and opening up that conversation helps you identify the best ways to take care of yourself.
What Do We Know About Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome?