Guest post by Leanne McLachlan.
PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome) is a common medical condition affecting women. It is difficult to know the exact number of women to have this condition but it’s thought it is as common as one in 5 women within the UK, more than half do not suffer from any symptoms. I am here to discuss what it is like when you do suffer multiple symptoms, so here are the 10 things I want to tell you about PCOS.
PCOS is more than just my ovaries. Yes, it does affect my ovaries but PCOS affects my whole body and mind-set. PCOS is an endocrine disorder which means it affects a network of glands that are responsible for hormones helping regulate the human bodily functions, including my body’s ability to convert calories into energy that power cells and important organs. The endocrine system has many influences on the way a body works, from how my bones and tissue develop to fertility rate and heartbeats. The endocrine system is a contributor to hormone-related disorders such as diabetes, thyroid disease, low sex drive and growth disorders. This can cause a huge frustration presenting a lot of physical and mental barriers in life.
Obesity is a very common side effect for women suffering from PCOS, one of the most common reasons for obesity in PCOS is being insulin resistant, meaning the insulin doesn’t have the ability to break calories down into energy, therefore, it releases high levels of insulin to control the blood sugar levels. Unfortunately this means having high levels of insulin resulting in releasing a higher level of hormones called testosterone. This has a knock on effect throughout the body such as hair growth and fertility issues not to mention the social problems being obese still faces, from the stares of the waitress as you look at a dessert menu to not finding fashionable clothing because the fashion industry thinks being fat means we want to dress like a 70-year-old.
Infertility can be a complete heartbreaker for couples when the woman suffers from PCOS with many women going for months, even years with irregular periods or none at all. Nobody grows up wondering if they can have children or not? When we picture our life we don’t imagine the painstaking journey we could take, the months on end of waiting, wishing and disappointment it can bring along. Infertility can be a strain on the purse by purchasing ovulation strips, pregnancy tests, vitamins, medication, treatments, IVF etc. This has many effects on a person, household and relationship mentally and physically! Many people who have long spells of infertility can experience side effects of depression, stress resulting in bad temperaments, arguments and low sex drive, as it becomes a timed operation, often just going through the motions, concentrating more on the positions you read on the internet that apparently work best or headstands and elevation to maximise potential etc. often losing the intimacy and the importance of a bonding relationship.
Acne is a physical side effect of PCOS. This is caused by the imbalance of hormones producing more oil in the skin surfaces. PCOS acne is often more severe than general acne and is defined by larger under skin knots rather than skin service bumps. These types of spots can cause scarring, tenderness and mental health issues as well as the costs from treatments and make-up to cover the effects.
I love caffeine; it is the first thing I do as I slip my glasses on coming out of my nightly coma is to fill the kettle in a zombie state while my head receives the memo it’s time to wake! Fatigue is a really big side effect for me as a PCOS sufferer meaning even with the heaviest 8-hour sleep I still struggle to wake, string sentences together and function throughout the day sometimes. While I’m always game for a cheeky afternoon nap, daily life and motherhood do not permit this hence why many PCOS suffers like myself reach for coffee, tea, or energy drinks. Unfortunately, this is not a positive for the human body and can often give you a short boost then send you crashing, meaning you’re stuck in a negative cycle needing to consume more caffeine causing hormone energy and mental imbalance throughout your body and so on it repeats! Research has also stated that coffee appears to have a short-term negative effect on insulin sensitivity. After drinking coffee the human body is temporarily less sensitive to the effects of insulin, and as previously stated insulin resistance is a huge contributor to obesity. Yet research also states that consuming coffee over a long period of time in regular intervals improves the sensitivity of insulin significantly reducing the risk of Type 2 Diabetes ( a hormone based disorder common in PCOS sufferers). So there really is no defined answer to our love-hate relationship with coffee!
Exercise is a great tool for reducing side effects caused by PCOS, many doctors and dietitians have stated that a high-fibre diet and gentle regular exercise will improve your symptoms hopefully making them manageable for daily life. While this has been stated it has not been researched into what kind of exercise is best for PCOS sufferers. After many hours of research myself, this seems to be because every human is different, their hormones and tolerances are all unique so it really is a case of trial and error which again has its frustrations. Unfortunately, PCOS effects hormones throughout the body and increases testosterone levels increasing insulin, hair growth and affecting periods. This increases with intense/high levels of exercise, so while exercise is great it is also our worst enemy as we will literally be fighting ourselves against exercise with exercise, but this isn’t to say it’s not important just find the right level and seek a personal trainer and a doctor’s advice to help maximise positive outcomes.
Money can be a huge pain for women suffering from PCOS, with many of the side effects being physical aspects such as hair growth, acne and fluctuating weight gain can mean a large chunk of money can be spent on beauty treatments such as waxing, make-up and shopping at specific stores for clothes (mainly online). Yes I am aware of stores such as Evans, Simply be and Yours, these are high budget stores that cater for larger women but these are not always styled to each individual personalities and preferences like many high-street stores. Another aspect of money being such a high involvement of PCOS comes through medication and treatments in regards to infertility. These can take be the cost of ovulation monitoring strips, pregnancy tests, vitamins, medical prescriptions, IVF or Surrogacy payments which can cost around 5 thousand pound per treatment.
There is no cure! PCOS at the moment has no cure, we just have to live with the side effects. Even if we do manage to gain control over our symptoms, which if you haven’t gathered by now is a hard thing to do, the fight is never over we have to make sure we stay in control!
Mental health is a subject people, women and for myself in recent years only just starting to be open and confident talking about. PCOS, as I have previously stated, has a huge effect on our hormones which in turn affects our mental well-being. Something we can see how irrational, aggressive and impatient we are being but there is just no way for us to gain control over it. In recent years I have taken to daily meditation to help centre myself and understand my mind and emotions which for me has been successful in reducing my outbursts. The side effects of PCOS can cause drastic bouts of anxiety and depression, even house bounding me in the past as I’m so ashamed of the way I look and feel! Excess hair growth, facial hair, acne, weight gain have all taken there turns in making me feel less feminine and more masculine some days sending me into a downward spiral that seems to never end.
Lastly, I would like you to know how grateful I am to the online community, for showing me I am not alone on my darkest days. The internet is home to many support groups, empowering women who have shown me how to love myself for who I am flaws and all. It is the start of a long process, one of which I am excited to learn. I have never learnt to love myself for who I am, always tempted to give into society pressures of the perfect woman yet the amazing nations of this planet show me each and every day how we are perfect already and if I forget there is always someone there to show me, reminds me, teach me and to teach you too!