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I was first diagnosed with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, also known as PCOS, when I was 15-years-old. This hormonal imbalance occurs in one in ten women of reproductive age, ranging from as young as 11-years-old in some cases. It is unclear why this occurs, but doctors say there is a breach in communication between the brain and the ovary about when it should be ovulating.

The hormonal imbalance means that those with the condition are prone to missing periods and producing more testosterone, which can lead to excessive hair growth, acne, and issues managing weight. PCOS sufferers are also insulin-resistant, which makes them prone to diabetes in the future and have a high risk for fertility problems.

PCOS is easily confused with other health conditions, which causes many women to go undiagnosed or be misdiagnosed by their doctors. I can tell you from firsthand experience that I had to see multiple doctors to get to the bottom of my problem. Each one told me something different, because I didn’t match the “textbook” patient with the condition, until I tested positive for PCOS in a test. 

Being a teen and getting diagnosed by something I’d never heard of naturally freaked me out. I made sure to see my doctors regularly and became educated on the condition. I started changing my diet — switching over to a vegetarian and plant-based lifestyle — and became more active.  

The good news is recent studies have revealed that doctors saw an improvement in fertility in women with PCOS when they changed up their diets and exercised more. We spoke to Endocrinologist,  Dr. David Adamson, CEO of ARC Fertility to find out the important details to know about the disorder.

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Who is prone to PCOS?

Like some health conditions, you would think that a certain race or ethnic background may be affected by PCOS. According to Dr. Adamson, women of all backgrounds are at risk, but it is particularly seen in those who are overweight or obese.  Another reason is attributed to genetics, but it is still unclear as to why it is affected.

What are the symptoms of PCOS?

It’s important to look out for symptoms that may indicate that you have PCOS. One of the things to keep in mind? “Irregular menstrual periods or no periods at all” explains Dr. Adamson. If you are obese or have glucose intolerance or insulin sensitivity, plus the missing periods, you should let your doctor know. Abnormal facial hair, excess acne, and difficulty losing weight are other signs to look out for.

How is PCOS treated?

It is usually recommended that you see an OB-GYN and an Endocrinologist. Combined, they can determine if you have the disorder and help you treat it. Dr. Adamson says, “The best treatment is weight loss by the woman. A weight loss of only about 7% to 10% of body weight can often allow the body to begin to have normal periods.” Since most PCOS patients already have weight problems, losing some pounds may be all they need to do to help get their bodies back on track. In my case, I was asked to lose some weight and it didn’t improve anything.

I was then placed on birth control (a common treatment) to help my periods arrive each month. In circumstances where weight loss doesn’t help, a different approach is taken. “If the woman does not ovulate after weight loss, either letrozole or clomiphene can be used, often in conjunction with metformin,” explains Dr. Adamson. The last resort is often IVF or ovarian drilling — making small holes in the ovary with electrosurgery at the time of laparoscopy to stimulate ovulation. 

How to control PCOS.

In order to keep PCOS at bay or under control, it is recommended that women eat healthier and get more active. Dr. Adamson says there is no secret to the perfect diet, except to maintain a healthy weight with a BMI between 20 and 25. He also suggests taking prenatal vitamins with iron, calcium, folate and vitamin D if those are low in your system.

Other health risks involved.

Unfortunately having PCOS does include other health risks such as: high blood pressure (due to lack of estrogen), high blood lipids, diabetes, musculosketal problems associated with being overweight, endometrial hyperplasia, and possibly breast cancer. 

What about pregnancy?

PCOS is a condition that is one of the leading reasons for infertility, which can make the pregnancy process difficult for women. Dr. Adamson explains that if you have weight problems in addition to having the disorder, it may take longer to get pregnant. Even then, there is high miscarriage risk and other complications the fetus may face such as premature birth or birth defects.

Your future health.

One of the things I’ve wondered about is how PCOS will affect my body when I’m older. Dr. Adamson explains that around the time a woman with PCOS hits menopause, most of the damage has already been done to the body. Therefore it may get better after the fact. Most importantly, he advises that women take their health seriously. “If a woman is having difficulty with her weight, with irregular periods, with signs of hyperandrogenism (too much hair or oily skin), or she is having trouble getting pregnant, she should see her gynecologist or primary care physician,” he says. Luckily there are many specialists out there who can successfully assist and treat you for your different health needs.  

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