If you have come to this blog, you might have recently been diagnosed with PCOS. You are also probably in the process of trying to figure out what might be going on with your body and your period. For many of us, the feeling of something not being quite ‘right’ about our periods stays as a question mark for years before we are able to get any concrete answers. For some of us, one of those answers may be PCOS, or Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome. Over the last few years, PCOS has gone from relative obscurity to a common condition effecting up to 10% of all people with periods.
First things first, what is PCOS?
PCOS is an endocrine disorder that effects a person’s entire body, including our periods. Some of the most common PCOS symptoms include:
Elevated Androgens in the Blood
Androgens are male hormones (e.g. testosterone) that can cause many physical changes to the body and disrupts the menstrual cycle.
Multiple Ovarian Cysts
When functioning normally the ovaries produce follicles each month which release an egg during ovulation. In people with PCOS these follicles often turn into cysts which can disrupt ovulation and cause pain. Many people discover they have PCOS while on the journey to become parents. Because of the compromised ovarian function many people with PCOS encounter difficulty conceiving.
Infrequent or Absent Periods
People with PCOS often experience painful, irregular or absent periods. That’s because of the imbalance of hormones in your body that regulate your menstrual cycle.
Excessive Body Hair
With the elevated levels of androgens in the blood this causes the growth of body hair in places like faces and chests that is often thicker and darker than other body hair you may have.
Rapid Weight Gain/Difficulty Maintaining Normal Weight
This is often seen because of the changes in the way your body is producing and using insulin. Insulin is a hormone secreted by the pancreas that helps your body decide how to store or use the energy it gets from food in the form of glucose. When you have PCOS your cells start to become resistant to insulin and often store more energy than they release which can explain rapid weight gain or difficulty losing weight.
If these symptoms are sounding eerily similar to what you are experiencing, then you may have PCOS. Eeeek, so NOW what?
How is PCOS diagnosed?
PCOS can be tricky to diagnose since it consists of a constellation of symptoms that effect your whole body and can present as other conditions. Typically, your doctor will do some or all of the following:
- Ask in-depth questions in order to assess your: Past health, your current symptoms, and about what your periods are like.
- Do a comprehensive physical examination to look for signs of PCOS.
- Request you do a number of blood tests to check your blood sugar, insulin levels, and hormone levels.
- Ultrasounds (both transvaginal and/or abdominal) to detect the presence of ovarian cysts as well as their sizes.
While uncomfortable, these imaging tests are really helpful in making a definitive PCOS diagnosis as your doctor can physically see if you have ovarian cysts and establish a baseline for their position and size. If you haven’t had an ultrasound (either abdominal or transvaginal) before and are nervous don’t be afraid to ask your doctor to walk you through what you can expect so that you are prepared and confident!
Life After PCOS Diagnosis
If you receive a PCOS diagnosis the biggest thing to remember is that you can and will lead a full, amazing life. PCOS, like many health conditions, can be managed well through:
Good Sleep Schedule
Getting a full night of sleep is important is regulating your mood and improving your overall wellbeing. Picking a consistent bedtime and avoiding screen time right before bed can help improve your sleep.
Explore incorporating lower GI (glycemic index) foods like berries, leafy greens, and almond flour into your meals can help to improve insulin resistance and hormone levels.
Moving your body in ways that make you feel good is super important in the management of PCOS. Throw your favorite playlist on, walk around your neighborhood, or try aquarobics at your local rec center.
Your doctor may want to try various medications that can regulate your hormones, sensitize your cells to insulin, help with excess hair growth, or improve your fertility. Working with your doctor to establish your individual health goals will help determine what, if any, medications may be right for you.
If you only take one thing away from this blog it is that you are not alone and that you can still live your best life with a PCOS diagnosis! If you would like some more resources check out ‘My PCOS Team‘ for more information and awesome community support.