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Health

How my PCOS Diagnosis Altered my Past, Present & Future

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.

I was 17 years old, a senior in high school, when I ended up in the emergency room for the first time.  In addition to vomiting, muscle weakness and a low-grade fever, I can only describe the feeling as period pain multiplied by a thousand.  To this day, it’s still the worst pain I’ve ever experienced.  

In the ER, the doctors performed what’s called a “transvaginal ultrasound,” which is conducted by inserting the tip of a roughly 12-inch-long wand into your vagina and discovered that I had multiple ovarian cysts.  While this seemed very alarming to me, I was informed that ovarian cysts are quite common and usually harmless, except for when they happen to rupture.  All in all, the ER doctors chalked up the incident as an unfortunate, but likely isolated incident.

A couple months later it happened again.

After the second ER trip, both the doctors and I knew something was amiss. Following a whirlwind of ultrasounds and blood tests, I finally had my answer: PCOS.

What is PCOS?

PCOS, which stands for polycystic ovarian syndrome, is a hormonal disorder in women characterized by abnormally high androgen levels.  As a result of this hormone imbalance, women with PCOS typically do not ovulate normally and can experience a variety of symptoms such as irregular periods, infertility, male-pattern hair growth, obesity, mood disorders, pelvic pain and ovarian cysts.

Diagnosis Process

While PCOS has a variety of symptoms that can affect all aspects of someone’s life, a woman only needs to have two of the three main symptoms to be diagnosed.  The first symptom is irregular periods.  Women with PCOS don’t ovulate on a typical schedule, which can make their periods very irregular and sometimes painful.  The second symptom is excessively high androgen levels, which can be determined through a blood test.  The third symptom is the presence of multiple ovarian cysts. 

Treatment

The most common form of treatment for PCOS is the contraceptive pill.  The pill helps to regulate hormones and promote regular menstrual cycles, reducing overall symptoms.  However, the pill can have side effects of its own, which is why some women turn to dietary treatments to manage their PCOS.  

Regarding PCOS-related infertility, women with PCOS are often prescribed fertility tablets to help promote ovulation.  IVF is also used when previous fertility treatments have failed.  With these treatments, many women with PCOS can get pregnant, although it is important to note that there is still a risk of complications.  As the National Institute of Health writes in their article, “women with PCOS are three times as likely to miscarry in the early months of pregnancy as are women without PCOS.”

My Diagnosis 

When I first got my diagnosis, I remember it feeling very foreign.  My OBGYN, who I must say is a wonderful and brilliant woman, kept reassuring me that when I was ready to have children, I could simply receive fertility treatments and that everything should be fine.  At the time I didn’t even know where I was going to college; fertility issues were at the absolute bottom of my list of priorities. I didn’t even know if children were something that I wanted, yet there I was sitting in the examination room listening to my OBGYN explain how she’s helped many of her patients overcome their PCOS-related infertility.  After what I assume was supposed to be a very reassuring conversation on my possible future infertility, she got to what really mattered to me, which was prescribing me the pill and explaining how it would help manage my symptoms.  

Fortunately, I have never experienced the weight gain or male-pattern hair growth that many women with PCOS struggle with, which has prompted many health professionals to look at me and state “you don’t look like a typical PCOS patient.” Yet, I had always had irregular periods. One time I tracked my period and noticed it took 49 days, whereas the typical amount of time between periods is 28 days.  I never thought much of it, but when I got my diagnosis it all started to make sense.  

Yet another aha moment happened after I had been taking the pill for a couple of months and noticed a dramatic change in my mood stability.  I had been struggling with depression and mood swings ever since middle school and was taking anti-depressants to get by.  The anti-depressants helped some, but I never felt truly stable until I started taking birth control. It made perfect sense: my underlying hormonal imbalance contributed to my wild mood swings and depressive episodes.  The realization made me angry that not a single therapist or psychiatrist had ever thought to suggest a hormonal imbalance when it seemed so obvious in hindsight.

My Life Now

Currently, I am 19 years old and have been taking birth control to manage my PCOS for two years.  For me, the pill has continued to help manage my mood as well as my menstrual cycle, and I have not ended up in the ER for a ruptured cyst again.  Overall, my current day-to-day life is relatively unaffected by PCOS, but worries persist.  To this day, every time I start to experience mild cramping, I am terrified a cyst has burst and that the pain will escalate to that unbearable level that put me in the ER twice.  I also worry about my future.  Along with infertility, PCOS patients are at a higher risk for developing endometrial cancer.  All I can do to prevent this anxiety is to focus on living in the present and remind myself that I am strong enough to handle these issues if and when they arise.

What to do if you Think you Might have PCOS

If any of the symptoms listed in this article sound familiar, you should make an appointment with an OBGYN.  If they think you are a candidate for PCOS, they will likely perform an ultrasound to check your ovaries and a blood test to look at your hormone levels.  If you are diagnosed with PCOS, your OBGYN will probably suggest putting you on the pill.  While birth control has helped improve my symptoms, it is important to note that it isn’t what’s best for everyone.  There are other ways of managing PCOS if the pill doesn’t work for you.  

My PCOS journey is not yet done, but I hope that sharing my story can help raise awareness for the condition and help my fellow PCOS girls realize that we aren’t alone. 

Clare is a second-year journalism major at UF with a minor in public relations! She has always had a passion for creating, sharing, and consuming stories, and is thankful for the opportunity to continue to do this through Her Campus UFL. When she’s not busy with writing or school, Clare can be found dancing, making art, reading, or learning to cook!
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