I have a disease. I thought for a long time about how to start this post. “I have a disease” isn’t exactly the cheeriest of openings but it’s the most honest. I’ve had it for a long time. It’s called Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (shortened to PCOS because who has the time?). It’s this strange disease that’s, unfortunately, becoming more and more widespread.
The disease, in short, causes hormone imbalances in women and the ovaries grow lots of cysts. Too much androgen is produced and since hormones control pretty much everything our bodies do, it messes up a lot of other things. Some of the most common symptoms include menstrual problems (few/no menstrual periods or heavy and irregular ones), hair loss, excessive hair growth on the face, chest, back, stomach, fingers or toes, acne, fertility problems, insulin resistance, depression, mood swings and sleep apnea. (Source.) Sounds fun, huh?
Even though it is becoming more common, very little is known about what causes it and treatment basically involves trying to control symptoms versus fixing the problem.
I first got diagnosed when I was 14 (which was actually 14 years ago.) and almost no one had even heard of it. After my periods stopped and I gained about 80-ish pounds in a year with no change in lifestyle (I was super physical. I was a cheerleader and a dancer.) we got worried. I went to a total of 8 different doctors including hospitals but no one could figure out what was wrong. I had a boat load of different tests and always got the same response; a confounded shrug. One day my mom was at her regular OB-GYN checkup and got chatty and mentioned it. Her doctor was cool and actually kept up with what was going on in the world and thought it sounded like PCOS. Some lab work was done and we had our answer!
Since then, I have been on several different meds that tried their hardest to help but pretty much only caused more problems without fixing any of the old ones.
They have found that weight loss does reduce symptoms and maintaining a healthy weight often reverses it completely. Here’s the kicker though, remember all that talk about hormones and insulin issues? Those make it much harder than normal to lose weight. I remember when I was about 15 or so, me and my mom joined Curves and started a diet. I was even dancing more than ever, taking ballet, pointe, lyrical, tap and jazz. At the end of the first month, she, age 46, lost about 20lbs. I, age 15, gained about 10lbs. And no, my height did not change.
Doing this the healthy, sustainable way (rather than the hardcore crash diet way) it may be a long time until I really start to see results. And that can be brutal on the motivation. But sticking with it may also mean that several years down the road, I could be PCOS free. And that is an encouraging thought.