By Jennifer O’Neill
Imagine having a variety of unexplainable symptoms that have no apparent relation to one another. You have unwanted facial hair along your chin and jaw, while the hair on your head is thinning and falling out. You have irregular menstrual cycles, sometimes not having a cycle for months. Seemingly from out of nowhere, you face is covered in acne. As much as you may try to lose weight, your body resists.
All of these symptoms make up the hormonal condition known as Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, otherwise known as PCOS. It is estimated that the condition affects about 1 in 10 women and consists of an imbalance of hormones in the female body. Women diagnosed with the condition do not make enough progesterone and make too many male hormones, known as androgens. Although the condition was first identified in 1935, it has only recently begun to gain recognition in the medical community.
Many women go undiagnosed for years because there is no one specific test that diagnoses the condition, and symptoms vary from person to person. The name of the condition is also a misnomer, as it suggests that women will have cysts on their ovaries, which is not necessarily a true identifier for the condition. Most recently, the National Institutes of Health is considering re-naming PCOS to better reflect the condition itself, but no specific new name has been announced yet.
Other unwanted symptoms include infertility, male-pattern hair loss, insulin resistance, high blood pressure, and cysts on the ovaries, though as mentioned, not all women necessarily have this symptom and still live with the condition. Since there are so many different symptoms associated with the condition, blood tests are often used to monitor insulin and hormone levels.
Treatment for PCOS varies. Women are often prescribed a birth control pill to help get their menstrual cycles back on track, may be given Metformin to help control insulin resistance (which means that the body produces too much insulin and doesn’t have a place to store the excess, resulting in weight gain), acne medication to help with acne, and/or spironolactone for male pattern-hair loss or excess facial hair. There is also the option of taking supplements to help support healing.
Diet and exercise are extremely important when trying to manage PCOS symptoms. Eating a gluten-free, dairy-free diet is helpful for women with PCOS, because both gluten and dairy are inflammatory to the body and can be hard for the body to process, thus exacerbating PCOS symptoms. A diet rich in organic fruits, vegetables, whole grains (like quinoa and brown rice), nuts, beans, legumes, and organic free-range meats support healing. Though organic may be more expensive, conventional fruits, vegetables, and meats are often laden with pesticides, herbicides, and excess hormones, which will only worsen PCOS symptoms. Exercise can include things such as walking, yoga, or tai chi to promote healing and to get the body moving.
If you suspect you might have PCOS, speak up and talk with your primary care physician, gynecologist, or endocrinologist. The more information you have, the better able you are to control your symptoms and help yourself get back on track to living a healthy, vibrant life!
Call the office of Dr. Porcelli at 239-598-9327 to learn more.