PCOS: The chronic disorder that silently wreaks havoc on a woman

All Woman

The article below was written by Amanda Williams, a Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) sufferer, to raise awareness about the endocrine disorder that affects some women. Williams only became aware of the existence of PCOS after she was diagnosed. As such, she writes to help women identify the signs of the condition, how it can be treated with medication, and the lifestyle changes required.

WOMEN, those strong, courageous and resilient creatures, often face many burdens, obstacles and health-related issues that the opposite sex cannot understand. Many times we hide our challenges with joyful laughter and bright smiles that are sometimes difficult to keep in place.

We have been acquainted with the issues of fibroids and endometriosis; however, what if I told you there is another chronic disorder that silently wreaks havoc on a woman both psychologically and physically? However, this disorder has yet to touch the surface of full recognition. This chronic illness is known as PCOS.

PCOS is the number one cause of infertility in women, and affects one in every 10 women. It is an endocrine disorder that is characterised by insulin resistance (a condition in which the cells fail to respond to the insulin hormone). This leads to the production of higher levels of androgen (male hormones) in the ovaries, which in turn causes irregular/no ovulation to occur. In essence, PCOS is the result of hormonal imbalance. The onset of PCOS can develop during the pre-teen, teen or menopausal stages.

PCOS is a condition that has no cure. It is a lifelong disorder that requires treatment.

Signs and symptoms of PCOS include:

• Weird menstrual cycles (unpredictable). This includes irregular/no menstrual cycles, having prolonged periods that never seem to end (two weeks or more), or heavy periods with or without clots.

• Skin problems — acne, skin tags, dark patches (acanthosis nigricans) usually found around the neck, groin area, etc. This is a sign of high insulin levels.

• Hair concerns — alopecia, thinning hair, male pattern baldness, as well as unwanted/excess hair growth (hirsutism), dark/coarse hair typically found on the face and body (between the breasts, belly button, groin, inner thighs, back).

• Unexplained weight gain — this is especially true if most of the weight is in the abdominal or middle part of the body.

• Pelvic pain

• Insomnia

• Sleep apnoea

• Anxiety or depression

• Fatigue

• Aggression/rage/mood swings

• Repeated miscarriages

• Infertility

It is of utmost importance to treat PCOS symptoms due to the fact that women with PCOS are at a higher risk of developing life-threatening illnesses such as type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and endometrial, ovarian and breast cancer.

The treatment of PCOS symptoms includes managing and slowing the progression of PCOS. Women are usually placed on the diabetic medication Metformin, which is geared towards managing insulin levels as well as regularising menstrual cycles. Also, birth control medications such as Diane 35 and Provera are used to regularise menstrual cycles. It is important to note that other medications may be used, depending on the effectiveness of previous treatments as well as other symptoms experienced.

I believe more recognition/awareness needs to be implemented in Jamaica. September is PCOS Awareness Month, yet many women have never heard of this condition. Usually PCOS comes to the attention of women who are diagnosed with the disorder (as in my case), or those who know of people living with the condition. Hence, this leaves room for a number of cases to be undiagnosed. Not only this, many doctors themselves do not fully comprehend the issue, which prevents effective treatment.

Awareness leads to understanding, understanding reduces ignorance, and ignorance reduces judgement — in the form of others casting hurtful remarks about women who are overweight/obese or having symptoms such as alopecia, hirsutism or acne. In some cases women may not know they are living with the disorder, while some women may find it challenging to control the symptoms they are experiencing.

What you can do

Even though medication is prescribed to manage symptoms, it is also important not to become dependent on them, and seek other alternatives such as natural remedies and a change in lifestyle to help manage/reduce your symptoms.

• Exercise — doing regular exercise can help regulate hormones as well as manage your weight.

• Omega-3 fatty acids — increase your intake of omega–3 fatty acids which can be found in supplements, sardines and salmon. Flaxseed is also high in omega-3 which is important in a PCOS woman's diet. Omega-3 fish oil can help to regulate menstrual cycles even though it is not a food.

• Eliminate/reduce white foods. It is important to eliminate or reduce white foods such as white flour, white rice, Irish potatoes and white pasta. These foods create insulin spikes/surges which can disrupt menstrual cycles that result from fat storage which can cause irregular periods.

• Increase intake of fibre. Fibre is important to our diet as it keeps us full and prevents snaking. It also doesn't cause a spike in our insulin levels. Foods such as whole wheat flour, brown rice, sweet potatoes and oats are good sources of fibre.

• Eat more vegetables

• Take supplements such as vitamin B, D, Myo and D-Chiro Inositol

• Reduce intake of sugar or avoid artificial sweeteners. Drink more water.

• Various herbs such as spearmint leaf/powder can be used to make tea which reduces testosterone levels and reduces excess hair growth. Cinnamon is a spice that helps to improve insulin sensitivity.

Please consult a doctor or nutritionist before attempting to use natural herbs.

Contact Amanda Williams at amanda_williams1993@yahoo.com.




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