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At the age of 17 I was diagnosed with a condition known as PCOS. This stands for Polycystic Ovary Syndrome. It’s a very common hormonal condition among women and is thought to affect as many as 1 in 5 women in the UK – however, many do not experience any symptoms. If you are unlucky enough to experience the symptoms of PCOS, it can be very emotionally disconcerting. This is because symptoms can include issues such as acne, excess hair growth, weight gain, anxiety or an increased risk of depression. It can also make having children much harder because women who have it, do not ovulate regularly. 


So what is PCOS? Polycystic Ovary Syndrome is a condition that affects a woman’s hormone levels and the way her ovaries work. Women with PCOS produce a higher than normal amount of male hormones such as androgens and testosterone that causes them to skip periods and a host of other issues (Healthline, 2019). In case you didn’t know (because I definitely didn’t), male hormones already exist in women in small amounts that help a woman’s reproductive system to function normally. 


There are three ways to diagnose PCOS: a blood test (to check for hormone levels), an ultrasound to check for cysts on the ovaries and/or an irregular period. The cysts on Polycystic ovaries are actually follicles (NHS, 2019). If you remember anything from GCSE Biology, you’ll know that follicles are formed in preparation for the release of an egg during ovulation, however in women that have PCOS, each follicle or cyst contains immature eggs that never mature enough to trigger ovulation. Hormone levels such as estrogen and progesterone are affected as a result of the lack of ovulation, whilst androgen levels increase. This is what causes the various annoying side effects associated with PCOS. 


Now that we have all the science-y stuff out of the way, how do all these hormonal imbalances take shape in the body? As I mentioned earlier, the main symptom is a lack of periods, or very erratic periods. In addition to this, unwanted hair growth (particularly on the face), acne, weight gain, male-pattern baldness, darkening of the skin and headaches. Not everyone with PCOS has all these symptoms, some don’t get any at all and others only have one or two. I have always suffered from relatively bad acne as a teen, it slowly started to get worse and my periods became less regular. They also started to get heavier and the cramps that accompanied them became less and less bearable. I didn’t think much of it, my mum said that she went through something similar at my age and that she just grew out of it. This is the issue with PCOS, the symptoms are not “severe” enough to be any cause for concern.


The only reason I was diagnosed with PCOS was because I went for a general health check up my doctor decided to send me for an ultrasound when he noticed my skin and found out that my periods were irregular. Once I was diagnosed, I was put on the pill straight away. No mention of possible side effects or what exactly I was putting into my body. I kept taking the pill, it was definitely helpful in regulating my period, it became like clock work. My acne got better as well. I didn’t feel any obvious side effects of the pill, but after about a year of being on it, I noticed that I would get really moody over very insignificant issues. I would sometimes get very snappy or really down, without any explanation. I didn’t think much of it, until I stumbled on an article about several women coming out with stories of how the pill caused them to be anxious or moody. I decided to spend some time researching the pill and PCOS. Turns out the pill only really masks the symptoms of PCOS and doesn’t actually cure it, it just overrides your natural hormonal processes by releasing synthetic hormones that keep you from ovulating – hence why its an effective contraception. 


A few months ago, I decided I wanted to live as naturally as possible and didn’t really like the idea of taking synthetic hormones on a daily basis, especially if they were potentially affecting my mental health. I came off them about 7 months ago, just to see how my period would function on its own. I felt like I wanted to be more in control of my body. After doing a little research, I found various stories of women who had managed their symptoms and even reversed their PCOS with healthy living and a positive attitude. I had been meaning to start putting in more of an effort in taking care of myself and thought that managing my PCOS symptoms would be an ideal motivation to keep a healthy routine. I learnt about the different kinds of foods to eat and stay away from. The hardest for me has been managing my sugar intake. Most women who have PCOS have insulin resistance, which means we do not break down sugar as effectively as others. I have a major sweet tooth, I would have dessert after pretty much every meal if I could. I still eat sugary stuff, I’m just a lot more aware of how much.


The second thing that took some time for me to really get into was exercising regularly – I’m quite lazy and never really saw the need to exercise. I aim to do at least 10 minutes of yoga every morning and then another 20 minutes of resistance training 5 times a week. After implementing these small changes into my lifestyle, after about three months of being off the pill, my period regulated. My acne comes and goes, but is nowhere near as bad as it was when I was first diagnosed. More than this, I just love being more in tune with my body. I feel like now that I am off the pill and can see my symptoms for what they are, I can listen to my body and treat it accordingly. 

Aleena Rupani

Nottingham '20

I am a third year student at the University of Nottingham studying International Media and Communications. I'm also the Head of Publicity and Events this year for the Nottingham chapter!
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