I thought today I would post about my struggles with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS). I’m writing the post because recently my weight has ballooned (I’ve had a pretty rubbish few months and I am an emotional eater!) so right now my symptoms are out of control and I know I’ll be blogging about my efforts. PCOS is pretty rubbish at the best of times, but it’s making my life even more miserable at the moment. I’ve lived with it since for almost twenty years so you would think I’d be used to it by now!
What is PCOS?
PCOS is a collection of symptoms that affect about 10% of women. The exact cause isn’t known but it’s thought to be linked to insulin resistance. It’s main symptoms are
- lack of periods or an irregular cycle
- fertility issues
- male pattern hair loss
- excess hair on the face, arms and stomach
Because it is linked to insulin resistance there is also an increased likelihood of a woman developing diabetes or cardiovascular disease in later life. Not pleasant symptoms.
How does PCOS affect me?
Well I’m fat. It’s blunt but there’s no point putting it any other way. According to my BMI I am morbidly obese. I take a size 22/24 clothes and have a lot of weight to lose. Like most PCOS women I carry it around my belly. Obesity is common with PCOS and the crap thing is that it makes the symptoms worse, but the insulin resistance makes it harder to lose weight so it feels like being stuck in a vicious cycle.
I couldn’t actually tell you the last time I had a period. I know I haven’t had one this year. I can’t remember having one last year either so I think it’s probably coming up to three years now. Obviously this is not good. I do know that when I have a period I do ovulate though. I’ve learnt to be in tune with my body so I’m very aware of the signs and symptoms. And I’ve obviously got to ovulate occasionally because I’ve been pregnant.
Linked in with this is the fact that since giving birth to Lottie almost 10 years ago I haven’t once used any form of contraception. She is still an only child. It isn’t a choice we have made but one that’s been put on to us due to PCOS. She was conceived naturally, with no effort at all, so this came as a bit of a shock to us. We have had several devastating losses since then. PCOS makes miscarriage and stillbirth much more likely too. We’ve also been through fertility treatments in the hope of having a second child but the one pregnancy they produced didn’t last longer than nine weeks.
My hair was always one of my best features, it was thick, dark and curly. It’s still dark (except the odd grey) and curly but it’s no longer thick. In fact I’ve got noticeable thinning on top, and I find it has really knocked my confidence. I’m losing hair where I should have lots of it, and gaining it in places it shouldn’t be. I need to regularly wax my upper lip, my arms look like a yeti if I don’t get the hair removal cream on to them and my belly is embarrassingly hairy. Having PCOS means I can’t be lazy when it comes to the hair removal regime! It’s basically turned me into a man!
I am very lucky that I’ve never had any problems with my skin. As a teenager I never got acne, and even now I don’t often get spots. I get the occasional one if I’m really stressed or run down but probably only 2 or 3 times in a year. I do know other women suffer far more than I do, and even with the hair problems there are women who have it worse than I do.
How is PCOS treated?
There isn’t actually a cure for PCOS but weight loss is one of the few things known to be naturally effective in the fight against PCOS. Just losing 5-10% of their body weight can be enough to reduce symptoms and restart absent periods in some women. I know this is true because the less I weigh the better my symptoms are, and the more regularly I have a period. When I conceived Lottie, and we weren’t actively trying, I was a size 12 and my cycles were only 6-7 weeks long. Longer than normal I know, but they were regular for me!
Exercise is also said to be helpful. It’s got something to do with the effect that it has on oestrogen but as I’m not medical I won’t try to explain it. Exercise has the double effect of helping boost weight loss too. Plus exercise is really good for your mental health. This means that it makes it easier to cope with and handle some of the rubbish symptoms that are associated with PCOS.
Some women have reported success with a drug called Metformin. It’s used to treat diabetes normally but for women who struggle with insulin resistance it can really help. I have two friends who’s symptoms disappeared when they started taking the drug, and one had struggled to conceive but was pregnant within 6 weeks of starting the drug. She now has three children! Unfortunately in the area I live in they won’t prescribe metformin for PCOS, and even if they did my last two fasting blood tests have shown no signs of insulin resistance, although my symptoms suggest I have it to some degree.
Conventional treatments can include going on to the pill to regulate periods if you aren’t trying to get pregnant. The pill wouldn’t be an option for me though. I quite like being married and I have yet to find one that doesn’t make me become a psychotic witch. If you are trying to conceive there are loads of options from tablets to help you ovulate, all the way up to IVF. A lot of these are available on the NHS as well, especially if you don’t already have a child.
Alternative therapies and treatments have also had some reported success when it comes to helping manage the symptoms. Many women swear by acupuncture and reflexology. Other’s take supplements to help them. I used to have reflexology. I wouldn’t say it helped my symptoms but it did leave me feeling more relaxed which probably helped me cope better.
Supplements that are meant to help include Agnus Castus, Evening Primrose Oil and Saw Palmetto. I’ve also read that magnesium and chromium are meant to be good for women with PCOS because they can help to regulate blood sugar levels which obviously helps deal with the insulin resistance.
What am I going to do for myself?
I’m getting back on track with Slimming World. I know it works. Whilst the rubbish of the last few months is still affecting me emotionally it definitely feels like things are better now so I have no excuse for emotionally eating. I’m going to start exercising again. I’m not quite sure what that will entail at the moment as my foot is broken, and it’s refusing to heal so will be out of action for a while. I can’t run, which is my usual exercise. I might give yoga a go as I can do it from home, and just skip the ones that need weight-bearing on my bad foot. I’ve also invested in some resistance bands and it looks like I’ll be able to use these. They were 50p in Primark so I felt they were worth buying.
I’m also going to look properly into supplements and alternative therapies. I think there a probably some that will be helpful.I’m interested in trying Agnus Castus, a good quality multivitamin and possibly the evening primrose oil. I’m definitely going to reduce the amount of processed foods we eat, and where possible try to eat organic. I know it will be expensive but I am at the point where I will try almost anything and I genuinely think the chemicals we unknowingly consume can’t be good for us. This should hopefully help with that.
Hopefully I’ll notice a difference soon. I’ll keep you up to date!