By Rhea Dias
Okay let’s start off with an introduction, what is PCOS? Polycystic Ovary Syndrome is a hormonal disorder causing enlarged ovaries with small cysts on the outer edges.
Women with PCOS may have infrequent or prolonged menstrual periods or excess male hormone (androgen) levels. The ovaries may develop numerous small collections of fluid (follicles) and fail to regularly release eggs.
Women with PCOS may experience the following:
- Excessive growth of body hair
- Fluctuating weight
- A lower sex drive
- Irregular period cycles
- Male pattern baldness and thinning of hair
- High testosterone levels
- Mood Changes
- Trouble conceiving
Did you know that September is PCOS awareness month? This condition, which affects up to 10% of women and up to 25% of trans men, causes uncomfortable symptoms and long term health risks. While the exact causes are still unclear, we do know PCOS linked to insulin resistance. Despite how common PCOS is, there are many myths and misconceptions about the disorder.
The truth is, you don’t need ovarian cysts to have PCOS. Doctors can diagnose patients with PCOS if they meet two out of the three following criteria:
- Irregular periods
- Increased androgen levels
- Cysts found on ovaries, confirmed by ultrasound
Plenty of people who’ve been diagnosed with PCOS don’t have ovarian cysts, but they still benefit from treatment to regulate their hormones and menstrual cycle.
This is a huge myth. The fact is that PCOS is unique to every person who has the condition. Since PCOS is a syndrome, there’s a wide spectrum of symptoms and severities a patient can experience.
For example, some people with PCOS go months and months without having a period. Other patients have monthly periods that last for weeks on end. Some people will experience depression and anxiety, while other patients will report stable and cheery moods.
Your hormone levels are personal to you, which is one of the reasons trial and error are required for hormonal treatments. It’s hard to predict how introducing new hormones into your body will interact with your baseline endocrine system.
Unfortunately, PCOS is one of the most common causes of infertility. The very good news is that having PCOS doesn’t necessarily mean you’re sterile. Most people with PCOS can conceive when given the right treatment. Treatment usually includes a combination of medication and lifestyle adjustments.
While it’s true that many patients are prescribed hormonal birth control for their PCOS, only certain types of birth control are effective. Each type of hormonal birth control contains roughly the same amount of estrogen. But, progestin levels vary a lot across birth control options. Your doctor will likely prescribe a birth control with progestin that has low androgenic activity to treat PCOS.
There are probably lots of doctors who wish this myth were true! In actuality, diagnosing PCOS is a process of exclusion. Your doctor first has to make sure the symptoms you’re presenting with aren’t caused by other conditions, like thyroid or adrenal disorders. There’s no definitive test to prove or disprove that someone has PCOS. As mentioned above, a patient must have two out of three factors present — irregular periods, increased androgen levels, and ovarian cysts.
This myth is partially true, depending on how you look at it. There’s no particular “PCOS diet” that will act as a quick-and-easy cure. But, diet and exercise have a big role to play in managing insulin levels. A diet that helps you maintain low blood sugar levels can also help you manage PCOS symptoms.
A good diet breakdown for someone with PCOS is higher fat, lower carbohydrate, and lots of fiber. Focus on whole plant foods, not too much red or processed meat, and high-fibre starches in place of refined carbohydrates.
There’s some confusion about which comes first, PCOS or excess weight. PCOS makes it more difficult for the body to use the hormone insulin, which normally helps convert sugars and starches from foods into energy. This condition — called insulin resistance — can cause insulin and sugar — glucose — to build up in the bloodstream.
High insulin levels increase the production of male hormones called androgens. High androgen levels lead to symptoms such as body hair growth, acne, irregular periods — and weight gain. Because the weight gain is triggered by male hormones, it is typically in the abdomen. That is where men tend to carry weight. Abdominal fat is the most dangerous kind of fat. That’s because it is associated with an increased risk of heart disease and other health conditions.
Losing weight, even just a few pounds, can help improve PCOS symptoms. The healthy diets mentioned above are good starting points. Since PCOS is a lifelong condition, it will take a lifestyle adjustment to stay healthy and comfortable long term. The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Little changes add up to big progress.
It is important to understand that PCOS also occurs in lean females and has poor prognosis.
It’s important to recognize that not everyone with ovaries is a woman. Many trans, non-binary, and intersex people deal with PCOS each and every day. Discomfort around seeking medical attention for a gendered disease that isn’t associated with your own identity may lead people to opt out of getting help.
An estimated 25% of trans men have PCOS — that’s approximately 2.5x the rate of cisgender women. Studies have found a link between long term hormone therapy (testosterone), PCOS, and ovarian cancer.
Whether or not you have PCOS, it’s important to spread awareness of how this disorder impacts people’s lives. Even more importantly, let’s spread awareness of treatments and positive outcomes. People with PCOS can live full, healthy lives if they’re supported with the right medication and lifestyle encouragement. It’s important to speak to a doctor to understand what treatment works best for your body’s chemistry. PCOS, as with any hormonal disorder, requires an individualized treatment approach.
All of these facts have been checked and approved by certified Obstetrician-Gynecologists
Medical Professional: Dr. Monisha Singh, MD OBGYN
Dr. Monisha Singh is an Obstetrician and Gynecologist in Lanka, Varanasi and has an experience of 6 years in the respective fields. She practices at Sinivali Hospital in Lanka, Varanasi. Dr. Singh completed her MBBS from Manipal Academy of Higher Education, Manipal in 2015 and MS- Obstetrics & Gynecology from Datta Meghe Institute of Medical Science in 2019.
Medical Professional: Dr. Deepa Vinay Nambiar, OBGYN
Dr. Deepa Vinay Nambiar is a Multifaceted Personality, Well versed in 6 languages(English, Hindi, Malayalam, Tamil, Kannada, Telugu). She completed her MBBS in 2010 from Sri Devraj Urs Academy of Higher Education and Research ,Kolar. She completed her MD from the prestigious Amrita Institute of Medical Sciences ,Kochi in 2013.She completed her DNB in 2015.She underwent training for laparoscopic procedures under the reputed Dr Paul at Pauls Hospital,Kochi in 2016. She has keen interest in the Medico legal aspect of healthcare and Hospital management, hence completed her PGDMLS and PGDHHM from the prestigious Symbiosis Institute ,Pune in 2016. She completed her Certification course in GDM from Dr Mohans institute of Diabetes , Chennai in 2019.
About Self: Rhea Dias, Student of Management Studies
Currently pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Management Studies from St. Xavier’s College, Mumbai. I focus on living as sustainably as possible and constantly strive to find Eco friendly alternatives to reduce my carbon footprint. Other than environmental issues, I strongly believe that every menstruator in the country and world over should have a safe and hygienic period, without shame.
For over ten years I have worked as a Public Health Professional with people of all ages within non-profit organizations, social service organizations, educational institutions, hospitals and clinics to train, educate, promote, manage, design and implement public health programs to meet the needs of the communities I served. I have worked for organizations such as, Planned Parenthood, The Southern Nevada Health District, Kaiser Permanente, the City of Berkeley’s Public Health Department, and most recently Upstream USA. In these positions I was responsible for managing health education projects and people. In addition to being a people manager, I conducted and evaluated needs assessments,assisted in the development of curriculum, content, and training presentations for diverse audiences on a variety of public health topics. One of my main responsibilities was to conduct in-person, and live web-based public health education training presentations.I have a Master’s Degree in Public Health with a specialization in Social and Behavioral Sciences. I also hold a Bachelor’s Degree in Public Communications, and Minor in Sociology. I love helping to empower people of all ages to take charge of their health, and lead healthier, happier, more informed lives. In my spare time, I love cooking, reading, traveling, and watching & listening to all things related to true crime.
Tanya C Jaikaran, MPH