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September is PCOS Awareness Month, and I'm super excited to dedicate a series to something that is incredibly personal to me. PCOS stands for polycystic ovary syndrome, which is a hormonal disorder. To kickoff the series, I wanted to do something a little bit different by first presenting how this disorder has affected my life. Many plus size women, including me, have this and learn how to navigate it in our own way. So today, I'm going to share my PCOS story, how I came to my diagnosis, and the symptoms that I have dealt with. The rest of the month will be consumed with medical information and tips for managing PCOS, but it's nothing like hearing a real person's story. I hope that by sharing mine, someone else feels encouraged to share their story with others, as it's still a disorder that is greatly misunderstood. Many women who I diagnose with PCOS have no idea what it is, and that tells me that more awareness is desperately needed!
The Younger Years
I always suspected that something may have been going on. I never had regular periods and would occasionally skip a month since I started menstruating. When I was younger and my mom took me to the doctor, they checked to make sure I wasn't pregnant (I was a virgin at the time and couldn't be pregnant anyways), then told her not to worry. From that moment, I figured it was normal for me to skip my period sometimes and that as long as I wasn't pregnant, there was nothing to worry about. I then started on birth control, which gave me regular periods. When I got the implant, I only had 2 periods during a 2 year duration, which I knew could be a side effect of using a progestin only method. So, I kind of forgot about it and didn't know what my body was doing naturally since I was on birth control for about 10 years.
In February of 2019, I was concerned about why I was not getting my period after removing my birth control implant a few months prior. I knew it could take a couple of months, but just to ensure that everything was alright, I decided to get an ultrasound and order a hormone panel. Sure enough, the ultrasound showed polycystic ovaries, and the hormone panel revealed that I had elevated testosterone levels. Due to my training as a Nurse Midwife, I suspected PCOS since I fit the profile: overweight with irregular periods and traces of facial hair, which is called hirsutism. In order to have the diagnosis of PCOS, you must have at least 2 symptoms. I ended up having 4 symptoms by the time I diagnosed myself.
These are the symptoms that I currently have or had:
Irregular periods - this is a trademark of PCOS, and I always add it as a possible diagnosis whenever I see a patient for irregular periods. The majority of the time it does end up being PCOS. My periods are incredibly unpredictable, occurring approximately every 3 months naturally; sometimes longer.
Heavy bleeding - when I do get my period, they tend to be extremely heavy with clots. This makes sense since the longer I go without a period, the more my lining builds up.
Hirsutism - this is when women experience hair growth in a male-like pattern. Most commonly, the face, but some women can see hair growth on their chest and back. I have fine hairs that grow on my upper lip and chin area, which I remove with waxing and tweezing. This is caused by an excess of androgen hormones, such as testosterone and DHEA. These hormones are responsible for developing male traits, and although ALL women have testosterone, it shouldn't be above a certain level.
Hair thinning - the elevated androgen hormones can also cause thinning of the hair or even male pattern baldness in some women. My hair has always been thin, as in I've always had thin strands. However, I've noticed recently that a small area in the middle of the back of my head is more thin than other areas.
Polycystic ovaries - I have many, small cysts, or fluid filled sacs inside my ovaries. These are actually follicles containing an immature egg that didn't mature enough to result in ovulation.
Weight gain - This is the heaviest I've ever been, but I don't know if it's due to the PCOS or lifestyle. What I will say is that even when I do eat a balanced diet and exercise regularly, the weight doesn't seem to come off.
These are some of the common symptoms with PCOS. Next week, we'll discuss some other symptoms and complications from PCOS. Over the course of the month, we'll discuss how to manage PCOS both naturally and with medications, as well as fertility assisted methods when pregnancy is desired. Do any of these symptoms sound familiar to you? If so, I encourage you to make an appointment with your healthcare provider.
xoxo, Global Midwife
Disclaimer: This is my personal story; only to be used for educational purposes, not as medical advice. Always check with your individual healthcare provider.