Polycystic Ovary Syndrome Authentic Awareness
This September we set out to interview a real life Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) warrior for the United States’ federally recognized Polycystic Ovary Syndrome awareness month. PCOS affects 1 in 10 women in the United States and across the globe. This means it is likely you or someone you know who silently suffers from this condition. PCOS is gender specific, only women can get it, and it involves discussing some symptoms that are considered taboo, which is why so many women suffer in silence for so long. We at the Unchargeables want to encourage you to take the Polycystic Ovary Syndrome Awareness Association’s Tell Someone Tuesday challenge and talk to one another. More importantly, talk to your doctor about PCOS. Heather Humrich, a PCOS Warrior from Suwanee, Georgia and I sat down in her home to discuss the impact PCOS has had on her life, how she discovered the condition, how she manages today and what you might need to do if your doctor is not taking your concerns seriously. Below you’ll find a summary of our conversation.
Early Symptoms of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome
T.J. Q1.) What are the first symptoms an individual with PCOS might notice?
The first symptoms someone might notice are irregular periods, extra hair growth, particularly in places most women do not grow a lot of extra hair, such as on the face, and a pinprick type pain in the ovaries. Insulin resistance is another often overlooked symptom which might look like weight gain or difficulty maintaining a healthy weight despite an active lifestyle. Heather recalled that as a teenager her periods were often lighter and occurred over a shorter period than some of her friends. Without a frame of reference she thought this was ‘normal’ and that she was lucky. As a cheerleader at her high school she was always very active, so it was not until later in her life that she noticed she seemed to struggle to maintain a healthy weight.
Polycystic Ovary Syndrome is a Hormonal Disorder
T.J.) The Mayo Clinic describes PCOS as a “hormonal disorder” with an “unknown cause”. Often with conditions that primarily impact women there is little research dedicated to finding causes or effective treatments. Despite 1 in 10 women being impacted by PCOS this seems to be true. Awareness month is this September and we’re trying to do our part to get people talking to their doctor’s about their symptoms.
T.J. Q2.) While every woman is different and their experiences vary, please tell us a little bit about how you came to get an accurate diagnosis.
For Heather, and many other women, PCOS is discovered when a woman has trouble conceiving. As part of an infertility diagnosis, imaging and lab work was done to confirm the PCOS diagnosis. In Heather’s situation, there were visible changes to her ovaries. Her doctor commented that it looked like one of them had rings around it like the planet Saturn.
Polycystic Ovary Syndrome and Fertility
T.J. Q3.) Can you tell us a little bit about your journey to wellness that eventually led to my amazing nephew and niece being born?
Heather was referred to an endocrinologist that specialized in fertility. She was started on the prescription medication Metformin and consulted with a health coach that specialized in helping her create a healthy diet plan. Regulating her insulin was a big part of her recovery and remains a part of her wellness plan today. Heather considers herself fortunate to have had access to quality healthcare because in 2006 PCOS was still largely unrecognized.
Living Well With Polycystic Ovary Syndrome
T.J.) Modern, aka Western, medicine seems to primarily focus on pharmaceuticals for symptoms, such as anti-depressants or birth control pills, or medications that treat a co-occurring condition such as diabetes; although, there are some lifestyle changes recommended such as getting more exercise or losing weight. Many women prefer more natural (sometimes called alternative) therapies. The idea behind this next question is to give our readers a real person’s strategy for managing PCOS.
Heather uses a health coach that helps her stay on track by making surprise pantry inspections. Yes, really! Supplements are a big part of her health regime as she prefers more natural remedies. Choosing organic products free of added hormones, especially when it comes to meats and dairy, are an important part of her lifestyle choices. She avoids artificial sweeteners and balances indulgences with hard work. Running is an important part of Heather’s week and she says it not only combats mental health symptoms like anxiety or depression, but allows her to enjoy occasional sweets and that glass (or two) of wine on the weekends. It takes dedication to find what works and to stick with it, but balance is essential for limiting the impact PCOS can have on your life. Support programs that offer motivation to reach weight loss goals can be very beneficial in staying on track. Heather strives to include lean protein throughout her day but especially if she knows she might be indulging in something sweet. For one of the more annoying symptoms Heather recommends finding a good esthetician that can wax away the unwanted hair so you can you continue feeling like the beautiful bad-ass that you are.
Finding the Right Doctor to Diagnosis Polycystic Ovary Syndrome
T.J.) A lot of women don’t realize that they have PCOS until they experience complications. This can include sleep apnea, mood disorders, metabolic syndrome or diabetes. For a lot of women, including for you, this can manifest as infertility struggles which leads to a diagnosis. Women that are not trying to conceive are less likely to be diagnosed.
T.J. Q5) What advice do you have for women that might feel discouraged because either their doctor isn’t taking them seriously or they are uncomfortable discussing some of the symptoms?
This was an easy question for Heather to answer. If your doctor is not taking you seriously, find a new doctor. There are a lot of good doctors out there. Running the tests required to get an accurate Polycystic Ovary Syndrome diagnosis is not difficult nor particularly expensive, so there’s no reason that it can’t be done even if all it does it rule out PCOS.
T.J. is a contributing author for The Unchargeables, manages The Unchargeables Twitter feed volunteers, and is the newly appointed administrator for the Caregivers Support Group. She describes herself as a Reader, Writer, Baker, Teacher, Chicken Soup Maker, and Fighter for all Things Healthier, Stronger, Kinder, and Better than Yesterday