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June 12, 2022
Irregular periods (or not period at all), excess hair growth, weight gain, fertility issues, acne... If these symptoms sound familiar to you, you might be experiencing a condition known as Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (a.k.a. PCOS) - an acronym that gets thrown around quite a bit and one you've probably heard before - but do you really know what it means, what to look out for and what your options are for treatment? Let's dig a little deeper and delve into the important things to know.
In simple terms, PCOS is a complex hormonal condition affecting people born with female reproductive organs, that causes enlarged ovaries with multiple cysts ('poly' is Greek for 'many') on one or both ovaries; amongst a heap of other symptoms, which we'll explain more about in a moment.
The causes of PCOS aren't fully understood; but according to info provided by BetterHealth.vic.gov.au in consultation with Jean Hailes, hormones, genetics, your family history (as in, whether your mum, aunt or another close blood-relative were affected by the condition) and lifestyle can contribute to whether or not you'll be affected.
Noticeable* symptoms of PCOS include:
Not everyone who has PCOS will experience every symptom - you might recognise some overlap in some of these symptoms with those of PMS (pre-menstrual syndrome), but the two are very different conditions that are also treated differently. We always recommend you see a trusted medical professional to help provide a proper diagnosis and treatment plan (more on how PCOS is diagnosed, a little further on).
(*in this context, let's consider 'noticeable' to be things that you would easily recognise as happening to your own body.)
Unfortunately there's not a single, magic test that can diagnose PCOS. Doctors will consider a variety of factors to assist in their diagnosis; this may involve a pelvic exam or an ultrasound, blood tests to analyse your hormone levels, questions about your family history (whether or not anyone in your bloodline has had the condition) and of course, whether or not you're experiencing any of the above symptoms.
Note: If you are diagnosed with PCOS, ensure that your Doctor also regularly checks you for signs of Type 2 diabetes. According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control & Prevention) more than half of women with PCOS will have Type 2 diabetes by age 40.**
PCOS can happen at any age after puberty and will usually occur when you get your first period, but it can also develop later on in your 20s or 30s. That said, most people tend to discover they have it when they're trying to become pregnant and if they're experiencing difficulty with their fertility (and in turn, visiting their Doc in search of causes and treatment solutions).
The not-so-great news is that you can devleop Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome at any age during your reproductive years, with some people with female reproductive organs developing it even during Perimenopause.
Having PCOS may pose some challenges in getting pregnant, but the good news is that there are effective treatments available; these, coupled with certain lifestyle changes (as directed by your Doc), make pregnancy very possible for those with PCOS.
If you do have PCOS, you may be experiencing irregular or completely absent periods, making it either difficult to know when you are ovulating - or, you may not be ovulating at all - meaning that the follicles in your ovaries are not releasing eggs. No eggs = no possibility of pregnancy!
Your Doc will want to ensure that you're ovulating, amongst other things - so if a baby is on the wish list for you, see a trusted Doctor to help you through your fertility journey.
Having PCOS might also cause you to develop cysts (fluid-filled sacs) in your ovaries, which may cause pain (sometimes they can even rupture if not treated, though not all cysts will rupture. Or, they can but they may be very small and you won't even feel them. Read about Moxie Founder Mia's experience with a ruptured ovarian cyst in this piece).
But here's the thing: not everyone with PCOS will necessarily have ovarian cysts (which kinda makes the name of the condition a bit misleading, right?!), and those who don't have PCOS may even develop cysts!
Our bodies are weird (amazing, but weird), and it just goes to show how much we still have to learn about how they function...
If you do have ovarian cysts, you may experience moderate to severe pain, or no pain at all. In some instances, cysts can be surgically removed to prevent them from rupturing, Best to check in with your Doc.
Unfortunately there is no cure for PCOS (yet!), but there are various ways to treat its symptoms. As mentioned earlier: not everyone with PCOS will have the same symptoms, and therefore each individual will require an individualised treatment plan, best directed by your Doctor. This usually consists of a combination of medications and lifestyle changes.
MEDICATIONS may include:
LIFESTYLE CHANGES may include:
We want to preface these suggestions by saying: please consider your own symptoms, lifestyle, body, and do what's right for you. Always check in with a medial professional if you're unsure about anything at all. There's no one-size-fits-all!
A little reminder to leave you with, Moxette: if in doubt, get checked out.
- Team Moxie x
**Please note this is a US statistic last checked in 2020. We couldn't find a recent Australian stat at the time of publishing (we'll update the post when we do!).
Cover photo by Joe Gardner on Unsplash.
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