Friday, July 15, 2016

I am 1 in 10-Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)

Today, I am going to do an overview of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome. I want to share my experience with it, as well as educate people on this seemingly invisible disorder.

Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) is one of the most common hormonal disorders in women of child bearing age. 1 in 10 women have PCOS, yet more than 50% are not diagnosed. This is due to there not being a single "test" to diagnose it, but rather a list of criteria that must be met.

If a women has at least two out of the three following criteria, she is diagnosed with PCOS:

1. 12 or more follicles (cysts) are visible on at least one ovary.
2. There are high levels of androgens (male hormones), and/or symptoms suggesting excess androgens (excess body hair growth, acne, weight gain, etc).
3. Menstrual dysfunction, including lack of periods, irregular periods, and/or lack of ovulation.

Some common symptoms that people with PCOS may have are obesity, anxiety, depression, insomnia, male pattern baldness, insulin resistance, dandruff, acne, fatigue, infertility, unwanted facial/body hair, miscarriage, excess sweating, irregular periods, memory loss and aggressive mood swings. As you can see, there are many layers to this syndrome, all of which are difficult for any woman to face.

As for me, I was only talked to about PCOS when I went to my OBYN at age 22 (despite having multiple symptoms for years and discussing them with prior doctors.) Even this OBGYN was very misinformed about it. After being off of birth control pills for months, I had only had my period once. After that period, it had been over 100 days when I finally went to see my OBGYN. She talked about PCOS being a possibility and ordered an ultrasound. She didn't see too many follicles/cysts and wrote off PCOS for me.

My OBGYN prescribed me Clomid, an oral medical to assist in ovulation. I also had to use medication to induce a period as I was not getting them naturally. After a few rounds of Clomid being unsuccessful with making me ovulate or conceive, I went to a fertility specialist. He diagnosed me with PCOS. During an ultrasound, he saw over 100 small follicles on each of my ovaries. He also noted that I exhibited a lot of the symptoms of excess androgens (acne, facial hair, weight gain, ugh). Add in my irregular cycles and I am basically textbook PCOS.

There are definitely some myths related to PCOS that I would like to address:

Myth: You must have ovarian cysts/excess follicles to be diagnosed with PCOS. 
Fact: Actually, you don't have to have any cysts to be diagnosed with PCOS. The ultrasound that I had done with my OBGYN showed no abnormal amount cysts at that time (probably due to the years on birth control quieting my ovaries a bit). Yet I still exhibited 2 out of the 3 criteria required to be diagnosed.

Myth: You cannot get pregnant with PCOS. 
Fact: It is possible to get pregnant with PCOS. And some women can conceive naturally without any medical intervention. Yet others will need medical intervention. For the average women with PCOS, my fertility specialist said it isn't so much if they can get pregnant, but how.

Myth: PCOS can be cured with hormonal birth control. 
Fact: Hormonal birth control can help mask the symptoms, but it does not cure the syndrome. I was on birth control for years, thinking that my cycle had regulated and my acne had improved. Yet once I got off of it, my symptoms returned. It can be a great tool to help manage symptoms until you try to conceive though.

My goal is to try and get some information out there about a disorder that is so rarely talked about, yet is so prevalent among women of child bearing age. As I said earlier, 1 in 10 women in that age range have PCOS, yet it's thought that over 50% are undiagnosed. If you feel like you may have PCOS, please consult with a medical professional. I wish I had known earlier and could have better prepared for what I would face when trying to conceive, as well as understand why my body was doing the things that it was.

If you have any questions, please don't hesitate to reach out through comments or email.

Love and Blessings,

Annmarie Faye

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