By Caitlin SeidaTo anyone who’s read my story on Salon.com, I’m already speaking what you know: I have polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). A lot of women have written me telling me they have the same. An equal number of women have written me asking for more information on the syndrome and wondering if they should ask their doctors for tests because of their symptoms. Today, you’re going to get the nitty gritty about PCOS, what it looks like and what you should do if you think you might be one of the estimated 350 million women (source) affected by this disease.
What it IsCysts are little fluid filled sacs. With polycystic ovarian syndrome, cysts can accumulate on your ovaries. Sometimes women with PCOS have no cysts at all (wrap your head around THAT one!), sometimes the
number of cysts reduces or increases based on hormonal changes. Sometimes the cysts burst in a painful bout of misery that leaves you crying for your mother and cursing your female anatomy. One of the first clues women with PCOS have may be highly irregular or missed periods - going more than 28 days without a period, skipping a month, or going far less than 28 days between periods. Again, it all comes down to hormones. Speaking of hormones, women with PCOS almost always have high levels of androgens - these are erroneously called “male” hormones (like testosterone), but women make them too, just in smaller amounts. When you’ve got PCOS, the levels of testosterone, estrogen and progesterone (the latter two being typically “female” hormones) are all out of whack.
What it Looks Like
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Best FriendsThe bad news is, PCOS often (but not always) comes with co-morbid conditions. What this means is that PCOS has a bunch of little buddy syndromes that hang out with it. Insulin resistance is a common one. Insulin is hormone that helps regulate blood glucose levels. Your body becomes tolerant of the normal dose your body produces, and your body has to make even more of it to keep your blood sugar levels regular. So you end up with this excess store of insulin in your body. It can make you feel tired after eating, generally fatigued and yes - it can make it feel almost impossible to lose weight. This puts you at risk for diabetes in the future, if not managed properly. Women with PCOS are at a higher risk of having high cholesterol, high blood pressure, sleep apnea and heart problems. Although the link is shaky, a lot of women with PCOS also experience hypothyroidism
Let’s Talk About Sex (Babies!)
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So How Did I Get It?You didn’t catch it from sex, or a dirty toilet seat, or eating the wrong kind of ice cream. Simply put: Nobody really knows what causes it. There’s a suspected genetic component - my mother and I got diagnosed at the same time - and there’s a thought that hormones in food, or changes in diet, or stress, or exposure to a million and one things theorized to cause PCOS. But really? Nobody has a clue. So don’t beat yourself up over it and don’t let your doctor (or anyone else) make you feel like this is YOUR FAULT. It’s not. If you want to blame anyone, blame those damn hormones that are out of whack.
|Copyright Walt Stoneburner, used under a Creative Commons 2.0 License|
some blood to check your androgen levels, blood glucose levels and insulin levels (taking care of the insulin resistance buddy, as well!). It may take several visits to get things sorted out - some women notice their doctors brush off their concerns. if that happens, seek a second opinion and don’t stop until you get answers. If you have the ability, speak with an endocrinologist about your suspicions.