Despite brave women like Harnaam Kaur sharing their experiences of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), the condition is still misunderstood by many people.
One of the symptoms, for instance, can be excessive hair growth on the face, which is something that Kaur, also known as the 'Bearded Lady' is all too familiar with. She has previously spoken about how she was bullied as a child, to the point where she began to self harm and, at one point, considered suicide.
According to PCOS charity Verity, the condition is incredibly common and affects around one in five women in the UK.
So to raise awareness and help break down stigma once and for all, here's what you need to know about PCOS:
What Is PCOS?
PCOS, which was previously called Stein Leventhal Syndrome, is a condition that affects women, mainly in their reproductive years between puberty and their mid-40s.
According to Harley Street gynaecologist Dr. Ahmed Ismail, a woman usually develops the condition as is the result of a hormonal imbalance.
"The main causes of PCOS are high levels of stress (perhaps caused by exams or the delay of having babies) and poor lifestyle choices (caused by the excessive demand of modern urban life); all of which have a substantial impact on one’s hormonal changes and result in the hormonal balance that causes PCOS," Dr Ismail tells The Huffington Post UK.
"Further studies and research is required to look into more genetic reasons of developing PCOS."
What Are The Symptoms?
According to Dr Ismail, the symptoms of PCOS include:
- Abnormality in the woman’s menstrual cycle, often with long intervals between periods
- Abnormal hair growth
- Increased body weight
- Dryness of skin
- Vaginal dryness
- Dyspareunia (painful intercourse)
- Hair loss
- Anovulatory cycles leading to infertility
- Acne of the face, chest and/or back
- Loss of libido
"Substantial research into the hormonal imbalance that causes PCOS has led gynaecologists to understand the syndrome extremely closely, to the point that we can often diagnose PCOS without any symptoms," he adds.
"PCOS can also be diagnosed through laparoscopy and medical scans. For example, when a patient is having a routine laparoscopy for other medical reasons, or has visited us for advice with fertility problems."
What Is It Like To Have PCOS?
Blogging on HuffPost UK Lifestyle, Holly Whiting says PCOS has affected her mental health and urges others to take the condition seriously.
"PCOS is a silent disorder because it affects women mentally not just physically," she says.
"All the symptoms...are enough to damage a woman's mind set completely, women don't want to have to deal with excess hair on their face that is considered manly, or acne for the rest of their life when that was supposed to have stopped in their teens.
"Moreover, the prospect of maybe not being having to have children is a very hard thought to bare. All of PCOS' symptoms can genuinely cause severely low self-esteem and in return depression, therefore making PCOS a relevant topic for discussion."
Blogger Thandi Ejindu adds that the lack of understanding around PCOS can be distressing.
"Even as someone who was correctly diagnosed with the condition 16 years ago, the amount of support and information about this is and was rare," she says.
"I remember feeling so very alone and like I may be the only person on earth who had it."
What Treatments Are Available?
Because of the broad range of symptoms associated with PCOS there are also a broad range of treatment options which a doctor will recommend tailored to an individual.
"If she has menstrual problems, we need to regulate her periods. If she wants to conceive a baby, we need to make her ovulate. If she has skin problems, we need to treat those," Dr Ismail explains.
He adds that patients with abnormal hair growth can have laser treatments or use traditional methods of hair removal to limit their symptoms, while patients with skin problems (including acne or dryness), will often be offered medication or cosmetic treatments.
What Wider Impact Can PCOS Have?
According to Dr Ismail, PCOS is one of the major causes, if not the most common cause, of infertility problems.
"To achieve an early and accurate diagnosis, it is important to always provide your gynaecologist with a detailed medical history and to receive a regular thorough examination," he says.
"This will help your gynaecologist to detect, diagnose and treat any problems promptly; saving you a lot of time, worry and emotional distress."
The good news is that for most people, PCOS treatment is remarkably successful.
"Therefore, if you are experiencing fertility problems and are considering IVF, I advise visiting your gynaecologist immediately. They may find that the cause of your fertility problems is PCOS or another condition that is easily treated and that, in actual fact, you do not need IVF," Dr Ismail says.
"Over years of experience, I have found that many women have been led to believe that they need IVF because they have PCOS. However, this is not necessarily true."