Yeah being a women is hard. One might say it gets harder and harder the older you get. It's Good Polycystic ovarian syndromeIs is not a death sentence.I wish all the women dealing with this the best.
If you abbreviate “polycystic ovarian syndrome” without thinking it through, you’ll come up with an acronym that’s more readily recognized to mean something not so nice. (As in: “This flip phone is a POS, but at least I can still text.”)
Saying “polycystic ovarian syndrome” in its entirety, though, isn’t much better. “Just the thought of cysts on your ovaries is not good,” a friend who has the condition told me.
That’s why I was relieved to come across Amy Medling, who’s also known as “The PCOS Diva.” Through her health coaching program and website, she’s putting a pretty spin on the ugly-sounding condition that’s estimated to affect anywhere from 4-18% of women. (She also assured me that the correct abbreviation includes a “C.”)
“I wanted to put a positive spin on PCOS because it’s often called ‘the thief of womanhood,’” she says. “It robs your fertility, it robs your sense of femininity.” To get the deets on this common, but confusing, condition, I got Medling, as well as Patricia Smith, MD, an obstetrician-gynecologist at the George Washington University Medical Faculty Associates, on the phone. Here’s what I learned.
What exactly is PCOS, anyway?
As if the name “polycystic ovarian syndrome” isn’t bad enough, it’s also a misnomer, says Smith. “You don’t have to have polycystic ovaries to have PCOS,” she says, and vice versa. Though ovarian cysts (Medling prefers to call them “a strand of pearls”) can be symptomatic of the syndrome and a factor in diagnosis, the disease is actually a hormonal imbalance—often an excess of androgens (sometimes called “male hormones,” though both men and women have them).
The imbalance can prevent your eggs from maturing enough to ovulate, sometimes causing the follicles they grow in to bubble up on the ovaries, and often results in irregular, infrequent, or nonexistent periods. PCOS is the most common cause of female infertility, and yet how or why women get it isn’t clear, though it tends to run in families.
What are the symptoms?
The disorder “doesn’t manifest itself the same way in every person,” says Medling. But, signs that may point to PCOS include: irregular periods (which often means going several months without a period, and then having “crazy bleeding” for weeks, says Smith), hair growth in all the wrong places (cheeks, chest, and abdomen, for example), hair loss in the right ones (the top of your head), and bad acne.
How do you know if you have PCOS?
Any woman who hasn’t suffered through bouts of bad skin, weight gain, or menstrual irregularities can hardly be considered a mortal. It’s called puberty, people! But because some of these same problems are also symptoms of PCOS, the syndrome can be difficult to catch.
When Medling was a teenager, doctors suspected her hair loss was due to stress. Her irregular periods were left unexplained, and her acne was treated as merely a skin problem. It wasn’t until Medling was 30 and trying to get pregnant that a nurse told her she probably had PCOS. “The sad thing is that half of women who have PCOS don’t know that they have it,” she says.
But the good thing is that people like Medling are talking. If you suffer from any mix of the symptoms mentioned, find a doctor—a gynecologist or reproductive endocrinologist—who listens, and bring up the possibility of PCOS. She will probably conduct an ultrasound to check for ovarian cysts and do blood work to test your hormone levels and insulin resistance.
While there’s no single diagnostic test that can determine whether or not you have PCOS, says Smith, “a constellation of symptoms and lab results” can lead to the correct diagnosis.
How is it treated?
A lot of the women who work with Medling “are at their wit’s end,” she says. They’re sick of feeling tired, fat, and out-of-control, and are frustrated with misdiagnoses and difficulty getting pregnant. That’s where Medling’s diva-licious method comes into play. “A lot of those [symptoms] can be managed with lifestyle changes,” she says.
Her coaching program focuses on getting women to move, to eat a mostly plant-based diet, and to eat mindfully. “You don’t need a crazy diet, you just need to get in the kitchen and start cooking real food,” she says—and Smith agrees. “When you exercise and eat better, you actually decrease your insulin levels, which affects the amount of androgen your body makes,” she explains.
Although lifestyle change is the first line of defense against PCOS’s symptoms, some medications—namely birth control pills—can help regulate periods and prevent a build-up of abnormal tissue in the uterus that increase your risk of endometrial cancer. If a woman with PCOS is trying to get pregnant, she may be prescribed a drug that helps promote ovulation called Clomid, which helped Medling conceive her first two children. Sometimes a diabetes drug called Metformin is also prescribed, though “this doesn’t work as well,” says Smith.
The most important way to begin to deal with PCOS is to learn to love yourself, says Medling, who conceived her third child without fertility drugs after she began taking better care of herself. “If my daughter ends up having PCOS, I don’t want her to see it as a sentence,” she says. “I’m trying to pave the way for the next generation of girls.”