The human body is a complex and ever-changing thing. Female bodies, in particular, undergo changes throughout the entire span of a woman’s life. From puberty, to pregnancy, to menopause, female hormones can change on a dime, altering the physical and emotional state of a woman instantly.
But sometimes, these changes can result in more extreme conditions than you would experience with typical bodily phases. PCOS is one of those conditions.
Polycystic ovary syndrome, or PCOS, is an endocrine condition caused by elevated levels of androgens, or male hormones, in a woman’s body. The most common symptom of PCOS, one that women everywhere struggle with, is thick facial hair.
Women with PCOS will experience various degrees of facial hair, or occasionally the condition will reveal itself as adult acne. No matter the physical result, experiencing these changes without knowing much about the condition can be a scary thing. Embarrassing, even, as there are so many social stigmas revolving around what women should and should not look like.
If you suspect you may have PCOS, we encourage you to contact your primary care doctor immediately for an evaluation. In the meantime, read on to learn about the symptoms and treatment methods for this common condition.
What Is PCOS?
Researchers have discovered that the elevated levels of androgens that ultimately cause PCOS are caused by both genetic and environmental factors. The condition has a wide range of symptoms and levels of severity, oftentimes making it difficult to diagnose.
Current research suggests it may be linked to insulin, as studies have found PCOS linked to women with higher insulin levels. PCOS is also a risk factor for diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, sleep apnea, and some cancers.
While PCOS can be a difficult condition to handle in day-to-day life, women who live with the condition are certainly not in a minority. About 20 percent of women worldwide between the ages of 18 and 44 struggle with the symptoms of PCOS, making this one of the most common hormonal conditions in the world. In the U.S. alone, over 200,000 new cases of PCOS are brought to light each year.
What Are The Symptoms?
Body hair may be the most well-known symptom of PCOS, but there are so many layers to this condition. If you’ve been noticing excessive weight gain, mood swings, or sudden acne, you may be observing signs of PCOS without even realizing it.
1. Abundant Body Hair
The most common symptom of the condition is thick and abundant body hair. This body hair will vary woman to woman; some ladies will get hair that’s thicker or more fine than others.
Location of the hair varies as well. While facial hair is common with PCOS, chest, stomach, and arm hair are also just as likely to grow, depending on the individual and how severe the PCOS is.
2. Irregular Periods
If your menstruation cycle seems off – if you’re spotting all month long or you’ll spot two days every week and that’s it – don’t just blame it on your birth control. PCOS is a hormonal disorder, so a woman’s most prevalent hormonal cycle (menstruation) WILL be thrown off if PCOS is present in the body.
Again, this varies woman to woman. Some women will see their periods stop all together, while others will get heavier and more extreme. Some women will even experience a painful cramping in their pelvis rather than a irregular period cycle.
3. Weight Gain
PCOS does affect your metabolism, so sudden weight gain is another giveaway of the condition. This weight gain is usually seen in the midsection and is linked to insulin levels; as mentioned, people with PCOS have higher insulin levels and are more likely to have Type II diabetes, which will also encourage weight gain.
It is possible to lose weight with PCOS, as long as you understand what herbs, foods, and exercises will help you best!
4. Acne or Oily Skinacne days were back in 10th grade, but you’re finding yourself suddenly breaking out, this could be because of PCOS.
This happens because hormone levels in the body have spiked and oil production has been increased on the skin, causing acne. This is essentially what happens right before you get your period (more hormones = more oil = more acne), but far more severe in nature.
This increased oil production also tends to affect the scalp in people with PCOS, causing intense dandruff.
5. Anxiety or Depression
Because PCOS is a hormonal condition, your mood and mental well-being are affected, too. Like any woman with PMS can tell you, swinging hormones will do a number on your mood and your self-esteem. So with severe hormone imbalances, like with PCOS, women are more likely to be suffering from anxiety, stress, irritation, and depression.
What’s more, because the symptoms of PCOS have such a negative connotation with femininity, women with this condition are often wrestling with their perception of themselves and feeling serious emotional strain or pressure.
The follicles that normally release an egg from the ovary never mature due to lack of hormone, and so the eggs remain in the ovary, unable to be fertilized. Pregnancy is possible with PCOS, but extra fertility treatments may be required.
How Is PCOS Treated?
Unfortunately, there is no cure for PCOS. However, there are treatments to help women subdue symptoms or cope with the condition. If you’re experiencing any of the symptoms listed above, you may want to explore the follow options for treatment of PCOS.
1. Try Magnesium
Studies have found that women with PCOS are lacking this mineral, so absorbing it by taking supplements (like Magnesium Glycinate), taking Epsom salt baths, or using magnesium oil spray may help to regulate hormones and reduce the effects of PCOS.
2. Consult a Aesthetician
As we all know (mainly because we’re bombarded by their advertisements), there are many ways to surgically or manually remove body hair. If you’re looking to limit or remove your body hair, weigh the pros and cons of shaving, waxing, creams and bleaches, laser removal, and electrolysis.
Just know, that you will most likely need to keep up with whatever treatment you choose. Even laser removal (which usually stops follicles from producing hair all together) has been proven unsuccessful for many people with PCOS.
Another option is to grow your hair out and own it! Rose Geil, an amazing role model for women living with PCOS, chose to grow out her bread after 39 years of hiding her body hair. She now flaunts her new look on Instagram and feels truly empowered by her choice.
Bottom line: forget what other people have to say, the choice of what you do with your body hair is truly yours.
3. Exercise More
PCOS will be negatively affecting your metabolism and causing weight gain, as we covered above. So the best way to fight back and regulate your metabolism? Working out HARD.
If you have PCOS, you should try a 15-30 workout every day at high intensity – meaning you should break a sweat within the first few minutes. You may also want to try resistance training to further impact your metabolism.
Consult your doctor first to see where you should begin exercising based on your fitness level.
4. Change Your Diet
For managing insulin levels, look for low-glycemic foods and eat plenty of leafy greens, fresh fruits, lean meats, and fatty fish high in Omega-3. Avoid processed foods, dairy, and soy products, all of which can cause spikes in insulin levels and worsen symptoms.
5. Talk to a Therapist
If you’re living with PCOS, you not only are experiencing a lot of dramatic hormonal shifts, but you’re also struggling with how society views you. You may feel ashamed, unattractive, or out of control, feelings which will only heighten your anxiety or depression.
Seek professional counseling if you’re feeling overwhelmed. They will act as a positive outlet to express your frustrations and help you learn how to cope with life’s daily challenges.
6. Talk to Your Doctor
Finally, talking to your doctor is always a good thing. Your physician can not only confirm if your symptoms are PCOS, but they may be able to offer you a medical treatment to the condition, too.
As we said, there is no cure for PCOS, but there are medicines you can take to help keep your hormones level and reduce symptoms. Talk to your doctor about finding the right medication for you.
As with all things, make sure you consult your doctor before trying any treatments for PCOS. Just because you think the symptoms line up with your experience, doesn’t necessarily mean PCOS is the underlying issue!