Everything You Never Knew About PCOS

While most know September as Childhood Cancer awareness month, it’s also Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome awareness month. As the month ends, it's important to remember how PCOS affects so many women around the world.

When I was fifteen, I went to my dermatologist about receiving laser hair removal for some awkward black hairs that decided to grow under my chin. During the consultation, she asked me a series of questions that made no sense to me: Do you have regular periods? How has your acne been? Have you been gaining a lot of weight? I answered them all as honestly as I could. Then, she took a step back and looked at me, “You might have PCOS. I’ll recommend you to an OB/GYN so we can make sure.”

That’s when I got nervous. I’ve never had sex and I was going to see a gynecologist! All I could imagine was cold stirrups and having to show off parts that I didn’t even like to see myself. Of course, that wasn’t at all what happened.

A few blood tests and an ultrasound later, confirmed what my dermatologist had thought: I had Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome. That was followed up by: Well, what is PCOS? I had a lot of questions.

What happens during PCOS?

One of the problems of PCOS is the imbalanced hormone levels in the body that cause it to produce more androgens. Androgens are hormones both men and women produce. It’s similar to testosterone, which produces more male-like characteristics in women. The body also creates a lot of insulin, but the body has difficulties handling it, which results in excess hair growth and acne. A surplus of insulin results in more androgens.      

What are the symptoms of PCOS?

The symptoms do vary from woman to woman so having PCOS doesn’t mean that you’ll show the same signs as someone else. There are many different symptoms of PCOS, but I’m only going to touch on a few.

Aside from hormones going a little crazy and cysts popping up on your ovaries, you will also have irregular periods. The periods that do occur, though, can be really heavy in flow. 

Women with PCOS can have an increased chance of infertility. You will still be able to have kids, but will most likely need a doctor’s help. 

Acne is another symptom. You might think it’s stress or eating too much greasy food causing it, but that may not be the case. It could be the higher androgen levels in your system. 

Weight gain might be another symptom. Again, not because of the hamburger that you eat once a week. The amplified weight gain is also the result of androgens. One of the biggest problems of PCOS weight gain is that it’s even harder to lose later.

The last one is a little tricky: hair. You will either be balding in certain spots or having increased hair growth that it gets awkward, or possibly both. Usually the hair is developing in a place you would expect to see on men – chin, chest, extra on the arms, etc. You can get rid of it with laser hair removal if you want. It doesn’t work completely, and could only reduce the growth by about eighty percent. 

Do you take anything for PCOS?

Birth control can help reduce the symptoms, but don’t take anything unless you’ve consulted your doctor first.

What would happen if I don’t want to treat PCOS?

Your body, your choice. There are other circumstances that can stem from PCOS. Women with PCOS have a higher chance of having diabetes and high blood pressure. Sleep apnea can be a problem as well.

Endometrial cancer may arise. Irregular periods cause the body not to produce the hormone progesterone. That hormone allows the lining of the womb to shed during each period. Without it, the lining becomes thicker and grows too much (endometrial hyperplasia) and can lead to cancer.

All of this to say that if you have any concerns about PCOS, it's always best to ask your doctor.