For a long time, my menstrual cycle was out of control. I would go for months without having a period, then bleed heavily for weeks, even months, without reprieve. The first time I brought it up with a physician, my symptoms were dismissed. But when I got a second opinion a few years later, I was diagnosed with PCOS.

What is PCOS?

Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) is a reproductive and endocrine disorder that affects an estimated 5 to 10% of reproductive age women. It is the leading cause of infertility in women, although that wasn’t always the case. It isn’t a new problem but has been a steadily more prevalent issue since the first case was recorded in the early 1900s.

Excess androgens – reproductive hormones that are usually present in small amounts in the female body – prevent ovaries from releasing eggs, may stimulate hair growth, and increase acne. The cause of PCOS isn’t known, but current research suggests there may be a genetic component and it could be affected by increased insulin in the body.

How PCOS Affects the Body

PCOS isn’t just a reproductive disorder. In a healthy woman, the follicular phase begins on the first day of her period. Follicle production in the ovaries is stimulated by hormones released by the pituitary gland. One of these follicles would then become an egg and be released into the fallopian tube from the ovaries. The rest of the follicles are reabsorbed into the body. However, in a woman with PCOS, the follicle might not release an egg at all. It is also not uncommon for fluidic sacs to form on the outside of the ovaries, although these cysts do not occur in every case of PCOS.

Aside from cystic ovaries, there are a range of symptoms that affect women with PCOS. Some of the hallmarks include: an irregular menstrual cycle, increased hair growth on the face or chin, acne, weight gain, difficulty losing weight, thinning head hair (similar to male pattern baldness), skin tags, and darkening of the skin. Women with PCOS may be at risk of suffering from other conditions as well. PCOS has been connected to type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, abnormal cholesterol, sleep apnea, depression, anxiety, and endometrial cancer.

Treatment Options

When I was first diagnosed with PCOS, I was terrified I would never conceive. Thankfully, there are treatment options. If you’re trying to get pregnant, you may be prescribed Metformin. It is often used to treat type 2 diabetes, but it also helps lower levels of both insulin and androgen. It may also help you lose weight and could help restart ovulation.

If you aren’t trying to get pregnant, your doctor may recommend birth control to regulate your cycle and control PCOS symptoms. Otherwise, making diet and lifestyle changes could significantly improve PCOS symptoms.

Pregnancy and PCOS

One of the questions I had when I did get pregnant was, “Will my PCOS affect my pregnancy?” Unfortunately, the answer is ‘maybe.’ Women with PCOS tend to have an increased risk of miscarriage, gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, and C-section, but this may be attributed to being overweight than the disorder itself.

My Experience with PCOS

When I was first diagnosed with PCOS, my doctor put me on Metformin and a hormonal birth control to regulate my period. My husband and I had been trying for a baby for a while, so I was skeptical about going on birth control. However, my doctor explained that it could put my body back in rhythm. I was on birth control for several months, during which I limited my carbohydrate intake, exercised regularly, and tried to eat foods in their most natural form.

I lost about 30 pounds. It was amazing! I think Metformin did help jump-start the process, because I hadn’t been able to achieve much before that. When I got off birth control, it took a few months, but (thank God) I was able to conceive.

I did try to eat well and exercise throughout my pregnancy. For most of my pregnancy, my weight gain was surprisingly minimal. I struggled with high blood pressure during the second and third trimester, but thankfully it didn’t turn into preeclampsia. In the last few weeks, I gained a significant amount of fluid and I was induced two weeks early for my health and the health of my baby.

In the weeks following the birth of my son, I lost all the weight I’d gained during pregnancy. This was a very emotional time of my life. I was struggling with breast feeding (my body never could meet the demand), trying to fit in meals between pumping sessions, diaper changes, a needy infant, and what little sleep I could manage.

Since then, I got a better handle on things, but the weight came back again gradually over the course of 6 months or so. I wasn’t dieting and exercising much anymore, and I hadn’t been taking Metformin since the beginning of my second trimester. My period evened out once I got back on hormonal birth control, but I was still struggling.

When I was eight months post-partum, I decided I’d had enough. I was almost back up to my peak weight. I had no energy and my body just felt sluggish. I went back to that same diet, but modified a bit. I’m still doing low carb with an emphasis on natural, God-given foods, but I’ve increased my protein and fiber intake as well. I’ve also controlled my portion sizes and I exercise five or six days a week. Now, nearly ten months post-partum, I’m down about 20 pounds (without Metformin).

I do believe Metformin helped me. It had a time and a place, but now I’m at a point where I don’t need it. I will never be free of PCOS, there is no known cure for the condition, but I’m going to keep striving to be the healthiest version of myself possible.

Further Reading

Bremer AA. Polycystic ovary syndrome in the pediatric population. Metab Syndr Relat Disord. 2010 Oct;8(5):375-94. doi: 10.1089/met.2010.0039. PMID: 20939704; PMCID: PMC3125559.

Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, Office of Women’s Health.

Goodman NF, Cobin RH, Futterweit W, Glueck JS, Legro RS, Carmina E; American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists (AACE); American College of Endocrinology (ACE); Androgen Excess and PCOS Society (AES). AMERICAN ASSOCIATION OF CLINICAL ENDOCRINOLOGISTS, AMERICAN COLLEGE OF ENDOCRINOLOGY, AND ANDROGEN EXCESS AND PCOS SOCIETY DISEASE STATE CLINICAL REVIEW: GUIDE TO THE BEST PRACTICES IN THE EVALUATION AND TREATMENT OF POLYCYSTIC OVARY SYNDROME–PART 1. Endocr Pract. 2015 Nov;21(11):1291-300. doi: 10.4158/EP15748.DSC. PMID: 26509855.

Boomsma CM, Fauser BC, Macklon NS. Pregnancy complications in women with polycystic ovary syndrome. Semin Reprod Med. 2008 Jan;26(1):72-84. doi: 10.1055/s-2007-992927. PMID: 18181085.

Raymond J. Rodgers, Larisa Suturina, Daria Lizneva, Michael J. Davies, Katja Hummitzsch, Helen F. Irving-Rodgers, Sarah A. Robertson, Is polycystic ovary syndrome a 20th Century phenomenon?, Medical Hypotheses, Volume 124, 2019, Pages 31-34, ISSN 0306-9877, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.mehy.2019.01.019.

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Comments (1)

  1. Melissa J Ticer

    Reply

    Helps me understand as someone who hasn’t personally experienced PCOS, thank you.

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