Doing Life

PCOS Awareness Month: What You Should Know

Fight Like a Girl
Image credit: didmynails on Photobucket

September is, among other things, PCOS Awareness Month. So I thought I’d break from the routine today to resurrect a (slightly modified) post from my old Blogger blog, originally posted in September of 2011.

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There’s a meme currently making the rounds on Facebook, supposedly in support of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, in which women are being encouraged to post fake, coy pregnancy announcements in the form of “I’m (the number of your birth month) and craving (an item of food on a list that corresponds with your birth day),” without offering further explanation. This is, somehow, supposed to raise awareness for breast cancer.

Needless to say, there’s been a lot of backlash. Men are annoyed at being intentionally left out, and rightly so, seeing as how breast cancer affects them, too, both directly and indirectly. My friend Erin Palette points out that it’s time to give equal attention to other more common and deadlier types of cancer that nevertheless hardly receive any media attention. And then there’s the Infertility/Recurrent Pregnancy Loss crowd, of whom I’m a member, who finds this meme, at best, insensitive, and at worst, downright hurtful. Others have expounded on the reasons why far more eloquently than I can, and if you’re wondering, then I encourage you to read those posts.

I admit that when I got the memo encouraging me to participate in the meme, I felt a little hurt and annoyed. I thought about how great it would make all of the friends and family feel, who’ve been hoping and praying for me to have a healthy pregnancy, to see me post something like that only to turn around and tell them, “Just kidding!” But mostly I felt bewildered, because, what does pretending you’re pregnant have to do with breast cancer, exactly? And also, Breast Cancer Awareness Month isn’t until October.

This month, September, is actually PCOS Awareness Month. If you’ve been paying attention to this blog for very long at all, then you know that this is a cause that’s near and dear to my heart. PCOS, or Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, is the reason all of those people are praying for me. It’s most likely the reason neither of my previous pregnancies made it to the end of the first trimester[*]. It’s the reason I’m terrified of even trying to get pregnant again until I lose enough weight to cure my insulin resistance. It’s also the reason that there’s no guarantee that I’ll be able to get pregnant again once we do start trying, or that it will happen quickly or without difficulty and a lot of heartache.

In the interest of doing something that actually raises awareness about a cause, here are a few facts about PCOS:

  • It’s a disorder that affects approximately five to ten percent of all women.
  • It’s one of the leading causes of infertility in women.
  • It’s closely linked with insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome.
  • Those with PCOS who do manage to get pregnant face an increased risk of miscarriage, most likely due to said insulin resistance.
  • It can be diagnosed at any phase of life and is not limited to women of child-bearing age.

Common symptoms of PCOS include:

  • Irregular periods, or no periods
  • Painful periods
  • Acne, especially at an age where acne isn’t a common affliction
  • Excess hair growth on the face and body
  • Hair loss
  • Unruptured follicles, or cysts, on the ovaries

Despite the name of the disorder, ovarian cysts aren’t always present and aren’t necessary for a diagnosis. Generally, three or more symptoms are enough for a diagnosis.

There is no known cure for PCOS. Currently, the only known medical treatment for PCOS is the birth control pill, which is not exactly helpful for those with the disorder who want to get pregnant. Fortunately, however, studies have shown that treating the related insulin resistance through a healthy, low-glycemic diet and regular exercise, or even with medications such as Metformin, can serve to lessen the severity of PCOS symptoms, and has even resulted in healthy pregnancies in women who have been prone to miscarriage.

If you’d like more information on PCOS, or if you think you or a loved one might suffer from this disorder, or for information on treating the disorder, please check out the following links:

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*I’ve since discovered that the most likely culprit was a thrombophilia (i.e, blood clotting) disorder, but controlling my blood sugar will still be a vital component of a successful pregnancy.

I would also like to add that women with PCOS are more likely to also have a thyroid disorder and gluten resistance, and also have a greater chance of developing Type II diabetes and heart disease if it goes untreated. And while taking the birth control pill can help regulate your cycles and give you easier periods, it does nothing to treat the underlying condition.

And here’s a good news update: Earlier this summer, my husband and I made the decision for me to stop taking the birth control pill and switch to a natural family planning method (specifically the one detailed in the book Taking Charge of Your Fertility by Toni Weschler), prompted by concerns about side-effects and health risks associated with long-term use of the pill. I was concerned that once I went off the pill my cycles would once again be all over the map, but I’m happy to say that so far, they’ve been pretty regular for the first time in my life–which tells me that the changes I made in my diet and lifestyle are working.

For more information about controlling PCOS through diet and lifestyle, I highly recommend both PCOS Diva and PCOS Diet Support. Both sites offer a number of paid resources like ready-made PCOS-friendly meal plans and online courses, but they also both contain a lot of free information and resources.

Personally, I’ve checked out some of the sample meal plans and found them too complicated for my lifestyle, so I just sort of do my own thing by following Zone diet principles, avoiding gluten and dairy as much as I can, and incorporating PCOS-friendly foods as much as possible. In addition to regular cycles, I’ve also noticed other improvements, such as increased energy and the near-elimination of my acne.

If you meet any of the criteria listed above, please talk to your doctor about the possibility of PCOS. This is serious stuff that affects far more than your reproductive health, but as you can see by my example, it’s completely manageable if you’re willing to make some lifestyle changes.

In love,

Jean

P.S. – Once again I’m linking up with Holley Gerth. Check out her post for more encouragement and “Coffee for Your Heart.”

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