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Polycystic ovary syndrome, or PCOS, is a hormonal problem that is estimated to affect as many as 10 million people worldwide. While the exact cause is unknown, it is suspected that genetics and environment play a big role in the development of PCOS. Despite other concerning fertility affected disorders and conditions, PCOS is the leading cause of infertility in women, and the symptoms can be extremely damaging to your physical and emotional health.
In 2013, a group of independent experts suggested that the National Institute of Health (NIH) change the name to something a little less misleading. As of yet, there's been no change. Despite being named PCOS, it is not necessarily true that you have cysts on your ovaries. A larger percentage of women with PCOS will actually not have any actual cysts. A cyst is defined as a closed, bladder like sac filled with fluid, or semi-fluid matter.
The first main hormone that is linked with PCOS are androgens (also known as "male hormones") which every woman produces in minimal quantities, but women with PCOS produce it in much larger amounts. This can lead to oily skin, acne and hirsutism, or male pattern hair growth on the face, chest and/or back. This can be the most emotionally damaging symptom, especially if there is a large amount of hair growth on the face. An excess of testosterone can also cause late or missing menstrual periods, and thinning hair or male pattern baldness.
Insulin is the second major hormone linked with PCOS. Insulin (as many of you may know) is responsible for helping the body absorb glucose from the foods we eat into our cells to produce energy. In women with PCOS, our bodies don't work as effectively in relation to insulin and glucose absorption. This can lead to an over production of insulin, which can in turn lead to an increase in androgens. So basically, the less sugars are absorbed by your cells, the more testosterone will be produced, and the more you will notice the androgen related symptoms.
The third major hormone that can cause problems in relation to PCOS, is progesterone. We all know what progesterone is supposed to be for in our bodies. It prepares your body for pregnancy after the release of an egg during ovulation and can help foster a healthy pregnancy in the early stages. But with increased androgens in your body, there is less room for progesterone, and it can negatively impact menstruation. A lack of progesterone can actually cause missed or late periods.
Now we get to the part where we talk about how PCOS has directly impacted me. I was diagnosed with PCOS coming up on three years this summer. I didn't know what was happening to me when my period ran long, by over a week. Two weeks, I bled, with no sign of it stopping. Naturally, I was distressed since I usually only have to suffer for three days tops, so I called my doctor and got right in for an appointment. The instant I told my doctor what was going on, she observed a few other symptoms that are indicative of PCOS, and an ultrasound later, we had a diagnosis that changed my life more drastically than I could have anticipated.
I've always wanted to be a mother. I've know that since I was a teenager, but now, here's this doctor telling me that there is a chance that the likelihood of me having kids is significantly decreased. After the ultrasound, I found out there there were (at the time) greater than 20 one to two millimeter sized cysts in or on my ovaries. Both sides. I was devastated. No matter how many times people tell me that I can still have kids biologically, that everything will be ok, I still think I'm kind of numb to it all. I know that I could very well carry a pregnancy to term, but that doesn't mean I want to pump my body full of fertility drugs just to MAYBE carry to term. Staying pregnant isn't necessarily the concern, but getting pregnant is going to be so difficult, and potentially require so much and many different medications, is it really worth it?
I have a close friend, who is recently pregnant with her second child, and I'm so happy for her, but I can't help but feel a little jealous that she gets to carry her baby, and have that experience again. She's been sweet about listening to me lament not really being able to get pregnant, and even offered to act as a surrogate if and/or when my husband and I decide we're tired of trying on our own. I can't tell you the hope that one little suggestion gave me.
And on top of the emotional rollercoaster that my life has become because of the missed periods and abdominal cramping occasionally from cysts rupturing, there's some of the other physical symptoms I'd like to talk about. Hirsutism, or male pattern hair growth in women, is probably the most emotionally damaging physical symptom I've had to deal with since being diagnosed. The hair growth started out as a few dark hairs here and there on my chin, but never anything that couldn't be plucked easily. And then it started to fill out, and thicken, and grow. And now it's to the point where I've had to start waxing my chin just for more than a few days of bare chinned relief. Shaving only does so much and leaves my chin feeling like a cut of meat that's been burned to a crisp. Waxing, while painful, is by far the best option I've found for long term hair removal. It sucks to deal with, but with hormone problems, you can only escape so many outright signs before you get slammed in the chest with one.
But, on the upside, scientists are not just letting this go without looking into it a little bit. I won't go into too many specifics, because it's a lot of technical scientific terms, but I'll include the link to an article that, I hope, is real. Scientists think they're getting close to really understanding what causes PCOS, and they're already working on a cure. If this is true, I will weep tears of joy, as I wait patiently for the "cure" to be available.