Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, or PCOS as it is more commonly known, is not a glamorous condition. I know that sounds like quite a negative statement to open with, but it is the truth as I see it. It is something that affects a large number of women in the UK, yet only receives very limited and stereotypical media coverage. This seems to focus on the 'extreme' symptoms that some, but not all women, suffer with, which are infertility, excess facial and body hair, and weight problems. Such symptoms appear to have been designated as the defining features of PCOS in the media, and don't exactly encourage women to come forwards and say they have it for fear of being ridiculed.
Just the other day there was a story about a lady who has learned to love her facial hair and now has a rather impressive beard. As much as I applaud her honesty and bravery, the reason she has received so much attention is because she is the 'exception' rather than the 'norm' in terms of PCOS, and this does not allow for a rounded view of the condition to be portrayed. This problem is further exacerbated by the fact that many of the symptoms cannot be seen, and therefore you would not necessarily know that the woman sitting next to you on the train had PCOS, unless of course she was picking pieces of cake out of her beard... I am not trying to make light of the situation, certainly not. But there comes a point when you wish someone would write something that provided a more realistic view of this condition. Well, here's my attempt.
The list of actual symptoms experienced by women with PCOS includes but is not limited to:
• Irregular periods*
• Hirsuitism (excess hair, particularly on the face, chest and stomach)
• Trouble losing weight*
• Hair loss
• Adult Acne*
• Pelvic pain*
• Extreme tiredness*
• Mood swings*
• Infertility or lower chance of conceiving
• Poor sleep pattern*
As you can see, that is a fair number of varied symptoms, and is certainly not conclusive. Every woman is unique and experiences different degrees of each, and more. I have experienced almost every symptom on that list, and have starred them to show the range. So far, I have not questioned my fertility, as I am not at the stage of trying for a baby, but it is always in the back of my mind. Will it ever happen for me? I don't know. I'd rather not add it to the list of worries, for now.
How to tackle such symptoms is another area that I firmly believe needs addressing, specifically in terms of the way in which the medical profession handles it. Over the past fourteen years there has only been one constant with the doctors I have seen, and that is their limited knowledge of PCOS, and even more limited compassion towards sufferers. The usual reaction is one of complete disinterest and a pre-judged arrogance that losing weight will solve the 'problem'. If only it were that simple (!)
I believe the only way women will be able to feel as though they can confide in their GP is to better educate the medical profession on the numerous non-visible issues, and not just assume 'losing a few pounds' is the only answer. This would be a major step forward in terms of women feeling as though they can ask for help without feeling judged.
I would like to point out, however, that there are other ways to improve and control the symptoms of PCOS. I have found the best thing for me to shed the fat has been to cut out the old favourites of delicious pastries, crunchy biscuits and soft bread (white food), and introduce lots of fresh foods (colour): fruit, vegetables, eggs, meat and healthy fats. I also started to exercise, which was my biggest fear hurdle. If you are reading this and thinking 'oh here's someone else trying to convince me that sweating in a gym will make me feel better but it's a load of rubbish', well I would have agreed with you last year. But, then I somehow got myself inside an actual gym, a proper sweaty one with lots of people creating more sweat and pushing themselves to work even harder. Although I was completely terrified at first, with a lot of help I managed to start trying things I'd never done before and realised I loved it.
As it can be easier to store fat around your abdomen when you have PCOS, (it certainly is for me!), cardio and some weights work are the best sorts of exercise to target this stubborn area. It does not have to be 'traditional' cardio. My favourite form of exercise is boxing. It is a great way to get rid (even temporarily) all of those evil hormones, while at the same time providing a great workout. Exercise does not have to be boring. You just have to find what works for you, and stick at it. I would suggest getting some advice from someone at a local gym if possible before starting anything new. That is what I did.
The main point I would like to get across is that PCOS does not define you. It is something that certainly can affect you and your life, but it does not have to be completely negative. As of now there is no 'cure', however, there are plenty of ways to improve the situation medically and/or naturally. There are also numerous support groups nationwide, accessible via social media, and charities such as Verity, who offer support and advice.
While it will take some time to change the stereotypical approach to PCOS, now is the perfect moment to do something to improve matters for yourself, and you CAN do it.
If you have PCOS and would like to chat I'd love to hear from you.
For more info on how I'm working on my symptoms, read my full blog here:Suggest a correction