by - Monday, April 30, 2018

Today's post is definitely a TMI. So, if reading about feminine issues makes you uncomfortable (it shouldn't), you might want to leave now. For the rest of you curious lot, please read on. About a year ago, I was diagnosed with PCOS. As there are so many women living with the condition that aren't aware of it, I wanted to share my limited knowledge on the subject with you all. Aren't you so lucky! 

What is PCOS?

For those that don't know, PCOS stands for Polycystic Ovary Syndrome and is caused by a hormone imbalance. While women produce both estrogen (female hormones) and androgens (male hormones), those with PCOS produce more androgens than normal. High levels of testosterone can lead to a lot of different issues, with one of the most common being irregular or no periods. This is usually one of the first symptoms of PCOS.

Now, this is where things get confusing. The condition is named Polycystic Ovary Syndrome because the hormone imbalance (and subsequent lack of ovulation) can cause cysts (tiny little bumps) to form in the ovaries, but this isn't always the case. Basically, each egg grows within the ovary in a little sac called a follicle. Usually, this follicle breaks open when the egg is released, but because high androgen levels stop ovulation from happening, the egg is never released and the follicle turns into a cyst. Thankfully, these cysts are harmless and don't need to be removed. I hope you're following  because things are going to get even more confusing. Despite the condition's name, it's possible to have PCOS without there being any cysts on your ovaries. Generally, to be diagnosed with PCOS, you need to have at least 2 of these 3 symptoms: irregular periods, high testosterone levels or follicles on your ovaries. 

Apart from these, those with PCOS might also suffer from acne, excess hair growth, fatigue, weight gain/trouble losing weight, thinning hair or hair loss and in more serious cases, infertility. In my particular case, the condition causes for me to have irregular periods, fatigue and excess facial hair, so this post will mainly cover those issues. 

How is PCOS diagnosed?

After doing a little internet research, I basically diagnosed myself. I saw that I had a few of the symptoms, so I booked an appointment soon after to see a nurse. The first thing she did was schedule a blood test to check my estrogen/androgen levels. When they came back as irregular, I had to have an ultrasound to see whether there were cysts on my ovaries. Though the blood test went okay, the ultrasound was seriously traumatic. To make the scan as clear as possible, I had to have a full bladder. In the trip to the hospital, I nearly pissed myself because I'd had way more to drink than I actually needed. It was the most painful thing I've ever experienced, hands down - so be aware if you ever need to go for an ultrasound of this kind.

Before I was diagnosed with PCOS, I didn't actually think there was anything wrong with my periods. Though they were late (my cycles lasted about 6 weeks, as opposed to 4), they always came when I when I was expecting them to. I only decided to go to the doctor after I randomly had a period 2 weeks after my last. I now take oral contraception so that there are no more surprises. It also helps to regulate my hormone levels.

Dealing with having PCOS

When I first noticed that I was growing excess facial hair, I initially couldn't help but feel embarrassed. My curly hair type means that I often suffer from ingrown hairs. I think the only place I don't get ingrown hairs is on my legs. At first, I thought that plucking the extra hairs along my jawline and neck would be the most effective way of getting rid of them. It took me a while to realise that though this kept the hairs at bay for longer, I was getting ingrown hairs in their place. I've now stopped doing this, but I have a lot of scarring and dark marks left from where the ingrown hairs were, which ironically makes me look like I have a beard. Also, because of my height, I've always felt that I was less feminine compared to other girls my age. Finding out that I have more testosterone than I should made those insecurities much stronger. Note: there's no correlation between my height and androgen levels, just in case you were wondering. 

Though feeling embarrassed is something I still struggle with today (I wasn't even sure that I would publish this post), I figured that there are so many worse things I could be going through besides growing a few extra hairs on my face. The ingrown hair scars will fade in time and I have so many other options besides plucking. Plus, the hairs on my jawline are so short and there are so few of them I'd doubt they'd even be noticeable if there weren't any scars. For any women out there suffering from excess facial hair too, just remember you are not alone and it's not something you need to be insecure about. Hair will grow just about wherever the hell it wants to grow. It's natural. If you can't be bothered to remove it, fine. If you'd prefer to be completely hairless, that's fine too. Tell anyone who doesn't understand that to kiss your arse. 

I recently started using depilatory creams (such as Nair and Veet) to get rid of any unwanted hairs on my face. As these creams don't remove the hairs from the root, the amount of ingrown hairs I get has dramatically reduced. I've also started drinking spearmint tea once a day, since studies have shown it can help lower testosterone levels. I will let you all know in a later post whether drinking the tea has improved my symptoms in any way. When I save up enough money, I'm definitely going to invest in a few laser hair removal sessions to get rid of my excess hair growth for good.

As for the fatigue, ironically I've found that keeping myself busy has stopped me from getting tired as easily. I've just started my 1st full-time job (so no more time for napping!) and I go to the gym at least 3 times a week. Exercise is - funnily enough - supposed to help boost energy levels and having a routine has definitely stopped me feeling tired so often. Hopefully, this will continue!

I think the most important thing for those suffering from PCOS to remember is that it seems a lot more worse than it is. At first, I was really worried that I one day wouldn't be able to conceive naturally. However, being completely infertile is rare and only usually occurs in those that don't ovulate at all (i.e. if you never get your periods). Though PCOS can't be cured, I've found managing my own symptoms quite straightforward - speak to your doctor to get the best advice.

That's all for now, friends. If any of you have any questions about PCOS, feel free to message me privately and I'll be happy to answer them.

Natalie x

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