When I started middle school, I wanted to be one of the popular girls who could get any boy she wanted, got invited to all the birthday parties and constantly had a cloud of friends surrounding her.
I just wanted to fit in. That’s when I began to grow ultra-conscious of how I looked and whether my body and upper lip were hairless. I always wondered why my hair was distinctly thicker than all the other brown girls’—Indians are known to have body hair that’s thicker than pretty much every other race.
After much deliberation, I figured it may have been the genes I got from my mother because my dad has literally no hair on his arms and legs. With that in mind, I let the issue go and continued to shave my body hair without telling my traditional Indian mom because she cautioned that it would irritate my skin if I didn’t wait until I was at least 17.
As I grew older, I noticed the situation worsened. My hair would grow back every three days and I was in no mood to wax so frequently. As if that weren’t enough of a curse, I had severe body and facial acne that blew up in eighth grade—the year that I moved to Bangalore, India with my family.
It seemed strange because I got first my period in sixth grade, and normally, that is when a teenage girl would start experiencing pimples. The scarring was terrible and I absolutely hated the way I looked, so much so that I didn’t want to look in the mirror anymore.
Years passed and I started seeing a dermatologist and underwent chemical peeling. It reduced the scarring significantly, but I was still under the impression that it was a teenage hormonal imbalance.
Three years later I moved to back to Houston. I started my junior year of high school and was introduced to Sephora, the makeup heaven for girls who need concealer and foundation with heavy-coverage for their acne scars. Kat Von D’s Lock-It Concealer became my holy grail and I finally mustered the confidence to put myself out there, make friends and just be myself without having to worry about whether people were scrutinizing my health and beauty habits.
I convinced my mom to take me to a dermatologist again and this is when the doctor asked me to get my bloodwork done. It seemed trivial but she insisted I follow through because I started growing thick hairs under my chin, as if I had a little wannabe male beard. My sideburns wouldn’t cease growing no matter how much I tweezed and waxed them.
The lab results came back and we visited an endocrinologist to discuss the results.
“You have Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome,” she said.
I was terrified just hearing the name. Is something wrong with my ovaries?
What is Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS)?
PCOS affects at least one in every 15 women. It causes a hormonal imbalance, leading to an excess of the male sex hormones testosterone and androgen. Additionally, PCOS may cause the body to overproduce insulin, causing insulin resistance. Other effects include prediabetes, depression, mood swings, rapid changes in body weight, excess hair growth similar to that in men, excessive and severe acne, irregular periods, and even hypo/hyperthyroidism.
Many women who suffer from this disease have cysts, which may not be harmful but can cause infertility if left untreated. The cysts can be found by undergoing ultrasounds, though sometimes the cysts can be so tiny that even ultrasounds cannot identify them.
Each case of PCOS is different and some women may not experience all symptoms. The toughest part of PCOS is identifying the disease itself—it can only be detected by a blood test. Many of the symptoms, like acne and hair growth, seem normal and unrelated to PCOS in the teenage years so the disease may go undiagnosed.
This disease may sound scary, but even though it is not completely curable, its effects can definitely be lessened with a healthy diet and lifestyle.
How to reduce PCOS
Most doctors I have visited recommended that I exercise and eat healthy, nutritious foods including a variety of green vegetables. This is because PCOS symptoms become worse with weight gain.
This can be tough since PCOS itself creates body weight fluctuations when you binge eat or exercise. Plus, since when do college women have time to eat healthy and exercise? It’s all about training yourself and setting aside time for your health. After all, health is wealth.
If you think you may have this syndrome, talk to your doctor and follow their recommendations. You can also contact the UH Health Center at (713) 743-5151.