What is PCOS?
Are you wondering, “What is PCOS?” Let me explain, Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome is a complex endocrine disorder effecting hormonal functioning in women. PCOS can be difficult to understand and explain so I’ve created this small list of FAQ in order to help you figure it all out.
Endocrine, Hormonal, … what?
Okay, so there are these things called hormones. Hormones are messengers that tell your body basically, what to do. Where to grow hair, how to store fat, how to ovulate, and hormones even effect a person’s mood.
Have you ever heard someone say a pregnant person’s hormones are out of whack? Maybe she cries a lot or is short tempered? These are her hormones affecting her mood. Making a baby isn’t exactly the easiest job.
So, these hormones tell your body what to do. The endocrine glands are the group of hormones that are circulated throughout the bloodstream. The opposite of the endocrine glands (endo meaning internal) are the exocrine glands (exo meaning external), which are responsible for things being secreted outside of the body like tears, snot, sweat, and slobber. Get it?
Okay, moving on. These hormones work differently in male and female bodies. Males typically have more testosterone and females typically have more estrogen. Men and women have the same hormones, just different hormonal cocktails. The difference between a rum and coke, and a coke and rum.
In PCOS, a woman’s hormonal cocktail is all out of whack. The cause of the imbalance isn’t exactly known however, the hormones aren’t balanced and there is sort of a domino effect of everything getting out of order.
Here’s an example:
A woman with PCOS has an insulin resistance- her body just doesn’t listen to insulin (check out my PCOS dictionary to learn more about the different hormones).
This insulin resistance causes her body to store fat instead of use it for energy.
So, she is gaining weight.
Now, at the same time- insulin is supposed to tell her body how much testosterone to produce… but the woman’s body isn’t listening.
An abundance of testosterone is made. The woman is now overweight and hairy.
Due to there being too much testosterone (and other male hormones) floating around, the women’s period either never comes, stays on too long, or comes irregularly. Now, she can’t get pregnant because her body isn’t ovulating.
Overweight, hairy, and seemingly infertile. This may cause extreme sadness and depression. Even if the woman isn’t dealing with infertility, it can still be overwhelming dealing with weight issues, thinning hair, excessive hairiness, cystic acne… the list goes on.
At this point, the woman might be overwhelmed because she doesn’t know there is a way through the struggle, a way that she can say HELLO to PCOS and take back control of her body and life. I know, because this woman was me.
Who is affected by PCOS?
It is estimated that as many as 5 million women in the United States may have PCOS. Due to limited understanding and a group of seemingly unrelated symptoms, it can be easy to miss a PCOS diagnosis, less that 50% of women with PCOS have been diagnosed.
That means you aren’t the only one wondering, “What is PCOS?”
The more we spread awareness and increase our knowledge about this disorder, the more women will ask their doctors about the disorder resulting in more women being diagnosed and effectively treating their PCOS symptoms.
What are the symptoms of PCOS?
PCOS can present in a variety of symptoms. The most common symptoms of PCOS are:
- Weight gain (specifically around the stomach area)
- Difficulty losing weight
- Absent or irregular periods
- Hirsutism (excessive hair growth on the chin, chest, and face in women).
- Thinning hair on the head
- Cystic acne
- Cysts on ovaries
- High levels of testosterone
- Insulin resistence
Once again, PCOS presents it self in many different ways. Some women with PCOS don’t struggle with weight gain (Lean PCOS) and some women don’t actually have cysts on their ovaries. You can find a symptoms checklist and worksheet to take you with you to your next doctor’s appointment HERE.
How is PCOS diagnosed?
There are a few different testing methods utilized in order to diagnosis women with PCOS.
All doctors should discuss medical history with a patient before diagnosing a woman with polycystic ovarian syndrome. Many women find out they have PCOS when they have difficulty conceiving so it’s important to keep track of how long you’ve been trying to conceive, how long you go between periods, and how long your periods last.
The doctor should also perform a physical examination. During this examination the doctor will take note of physical shape, hair growth, breast shape and size, and skin tags and acne.
A diagnosis of PCOS does not require women to present with cysts on their ovaries. I know, this is sort of confusing. But, cysts can come and go over time so it’s like going to the mechanic, your car might not make the weird puttering sound until after you leave the shop.
Most women receive vaginal ultrasounds in order for the doctor to check for ovarian cysts. If a women does present with cysts, more than likely they appear like a string of pearls.
Your doctor might also order a full blood workup in order to confirm a PCOS diagnoses. The blood test will check hormonal levels like testosterone, estrogen, FSH and LH, and insulin.
Do cysts hurt?
PCOS presents differently in many women. Some women experience intense pain resulting from cysts on their ovaries and others never experience any pain.
How is PCOS treated?
Treating PCOS is just as complex as diagnosing PCOS, but don’t fear… where there is a will- there is a way!
There are four main areas to focus on when treating PCOS. My blog posts will cover topics in all of these areas.
The truth of the mater is, you have to watch what you eat with PCOS. I know… it sucks. But take it from me; if you control your nutrition, most of your symptoms will improve. In the past, as soon as I cleaned up my plates, my acne and facial hair problems diminished. And… as soon as a I jumped ship on eating healthy and clean… I was back to daily acne breakouts and having to use hair removal products daily.
If you are overweight, losing as little as 5% of your body weight can improve your PCOS symptoms. The catch 22 of PCOS is that losing weight helps… but it is extremely hard to lose weight! I’m not a doctor so check with your doctor or personal trainer or whomever you check with to figure out how many times a week you should exercise. I experience the most success when I workout 4-5 days a week for at least an hour. I also include cardio and strength training in my workouts. Recently I fell off the wagon and gained A BUNCH OF WEIGHT so, if you’re looking to join me on my weight loss journey… subscribe to my newsletter so that you can be the first to receive updates.
Supplements are you best friend. Literally, your best friend (besides me of course). Check out my post on the best supplements for PCOS .
Ooh-oo child, things are going to get easier. Ooh-oo child things’ll get brighter.
Changing your life can be stressful to say the least. IT IS SOOOO IMPORTANT to take care of your mental health. Dealing with battling your body, feeling like you’re losing your femininity, and trying to stay on track can drive anyone up a wall.
34% of women with PCOS are also affected by depression. I’m all about holistic health (mind, body, and soul) so check out my post on the PCOS Blues here.
What should I ask my doctor about PCOS?
The number one question you should ask your doctor is, “What is PCOS?” If your doctor can’t explain the disorder to you in a way that makes you feel confident and in good hands, run- fast. Having a good doctor who you feel comfortable with and trust is vital to successful PCOS treatment (even if you are treating PCOS naturally).
Check out my post on the symptoms of PCOS. There is also a FREE worksheet to help you prepare for your doctor’s visit.
Can I get pregnant with PCOS?
Some women have trouble conceiving with PCOS due to PCOS’ negative effects on menstruation and ovulation. Through proper treatment and possibly the use of fertility medications, it is possible for women with PCOS to have a healthy and happy pregnancies and babies.
How can I learn more about PCOS?
Research on Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome is expanding everyday and the medical field is consistently conducting and publishing new research. Check out these links to stay up to date on advances in the field of PCOS.