PCOS: More than just a 'hormone imbalance'

PCOS: More than just a 'hormone imbalance'

CANDIECE KNIGHT

Monday, September 21, 2020

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September is globally observed as Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) Awareness Month. During this month we'll share more information about the condition, and stand with our PCOS sisters who fight the incurable condition everyday. In this two-part series, we will share the stories of some of our sisters, details of the condition, and available treatment options.

PCOS is the most common hormonal condition that affects women in their reproductive years, and is the leading cause of female infertility. It is believed to affect as much as one in every five women globally. But for such a common condition, very little is known about PCOS, and there is still no known cause or cure.

Consultant obstetrician/ gynaecologist (ObGyn) Dr Jordan Hardie says PCOS is a condition that sometimes prevents ovulation from taking place, and is commonly characterised by absent or irregular menstrual cycles, excessive androgen (male hormone) production, and multiple ovarian cysts seen on ultrasound.

“So the patient may notice that she has an irregular cycle or miss periods,” Dr Hardie explained. “Excessive androgen production may present as excessive hair on the face, chest, back and abdomen (hirsutism), or acne which can be very resistant to treatment.”

He added that patients with PCOS may also notice a significant increase in their weight, which can be very resistant to dietary modifications and exercise.

“Patients with PCOS are frequently overweight; however, PCOS is not confined to women who are overweight,” he said.

While some women with PCOS have little to no symptoms, most women who are diagnosed with it start experiencing the signs in their teenage years going into their 20s. These PCOS sisters shared with All Woman how they found out that they had PCOS, and how it has changed their lives.

Rene Dennis, 22, customer service representative:

My PCOS symptoms never affected me until my CSEC exams in 2015, the day before the math exam to be exact. I thought I would fail so I went into a deep depression about it. The next thing I noticed was that three months passed and I didn't get a period. I went to the doctor and he prescribed something for my period to start. It did, and stopped on the seventh day. That was in mid-2015. I didn't get another period until June 2016 on the day I had sociology exams. That period went on for three months straight. I went from doctor to doctor but no one could tell me that I had PCOS, all they stated was, “You just have hormonal imbalance”. I found out that I had PCOS by doing my own research. My symptoms are irregular periods, hyperpigmentation, anaemia (iron deficiency due to large amounts of blood loss), fluctuating weight, skin tags and acne. I'm currently taking Inositol, iron supplements and doing natural skincare routines to get my PCOS symptoms under control.

Jodina Barrett, 18, student:

I was diagnosed with PCOS at 14. I woke up having excruciating cramps and heavy bleeding. I was rushed to the hospital and I was given medication that didn't help at all. I went home where I bled for over a month. When I was finally able to, I did some tests and at the following doctor's appointment, I was diagnosed. It was overwhelming, but I'm thankful for my family who were and still are very supportive. Since then I've done my own research and I'm currently managing it by taking supplements and following a PCOS-friendly diet. Some of my symptoms are irregular periods, weight gain, anxiety and fatigue.

Kimberley Hibbert, journalist:

While at university my weight moved from 135 lbs to around 180 lbs in no time. By the time I left university in 2014, I gained a lot more pounds, and it was quite unexplainable as my eating patterns and daily regimen had not changed. Eventually my periods went missing for about eight months and I had a faint moustache as a teen that started getting thicker. I also had male pattern hair growth on my legs, jawline acne, and a few whiskers here and there. At the time I was an All Woman writer and I was writing articles about PCOS and said, 'hmmm, this sounds like me'. I reached out to ObGyn Dr Ryan Halsall and told him what was happening and we set up a consult. After some blood work and a pelvic ultrasound which showed multiple small fluid filled sacs in my ovaries, I was diagnosed. One of my other struggles with PCOS has been insulin resistance, but with the help of Dr Halsall, Dr Alfred Dawes and Dr Jomo James, that journey is somewhat easier. Initially this diagnosis was hard to deal with because of fat shaming, which I've just learnt to ignore. People who remember me as the slim girl in high school have the most crass things to say and even after explaining, they choose not to understand that weight loss for PCOS women, while not impossible, is a major struggle. This sometimes makes me avoid social settings and even pictures, lest another unwanted comment is made or someone offers that I am 'comfortable' or 'eating up all the food'. Another issue is navigating interpersonal relationships. Many times friends, family members and significant others do not get it and though PCOS is primarily a silent condition, lack of support makes it painful. My coping mechanisms, when I choose to not ignore it, is to talk more about the condition, especially in response to cheeky comments. I've also thrown my efforts into research on the condition and while doing my master's, all my assignments, except the dissertation (because of access to the population of women), were fashioned around an aspect of PCOS.

Kristeena Monteith, 26, creative producer:

I got diagnosed with PCOS in August 2018, after about six glorious months without a period. My gynaecologist ordered the ultrasound that found the small cysts and referred me to a great endocrinologist who helped me manage my symptoms which include hirsutism (more than usual amount of hair — jawline for me), weight gain and acne. Mostly my life has been unchanged by the diagnosis — any negative comments I've dealt with are usually on the basis of me being fat rather than the specific condition. I just have to continue to aim for good mental and physical health and happiness everyday.

Shamice Grant, 28, accountant:

In 2014, I was feeling abdominal pain and was concerned about how my tummy looked bigger than usual. I did a check-up which required me to do an abdomino-pelvic ultrasound where cysts were seen on my ovaries. I was told it wasn't an issue as they didn't seem to be problematic cysts and they would go away. In 2015, I did a check up with blood work because of symptoms such as fat tummy, weight gain, thinning hair and irregular periods. At this point, there were no cysts, but based on the results of the blood work my PCOS was confirmed. I was told I might have issues getting pregnant and when I am ready I should return for some pills to help. I got pregnant in 2018, so it turned out I didn't have infertility as a symptom. I didn't return for pills to help get pregnant. In April of this year I started to diet and eat healthier. I've lost weight and my period is now regular. I still have thinning hair, hirsutism and a little tummy fat, but overall I feel better.


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