What is PCOS?
Polycystic (poh-lee-SIS-tik) Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) is a hormone or endocrine syndrome or group of clinical symptoms and was first described by doctors in the 1930s.
What are the symptoms of PCOS?
There are several contradicting symptoms that hint that you might have PCOS. Some of the symptoms will be visible to you; some can only be seen by doctors' specialised tests. This symptom list is not an all or none checklist — you don’t have to have all the symptoms to have the problem. I have cysts, which is one of the main symptoms, hormone imbalances and I have 8 out of the 15 symptoms that we can see ourselves.
To find out more about the full list of Symptoms I recommend visiting this thorough website www.pcosjournal.com
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I was teased as a kid for being fat! Given how different children’s bodies are no one can say for certain whether I had a weight problem or was just bigger than most of the kids in my class. One can probably assume that I was born with hereditary PCOS and did not obtain it later in life from poor diet and lifestyle. **
I had my first preliminary diagnosis of PCOS when I was 17 years old after years of irregular periods, painful periods, or no periods at all! No official tests were done; the GP made assumptions based on my cycle, my weight issues, acne etc.
When I was 21, again without formal tests, I was diagnosed by a PCOS specialist. I was told I was unlikely to ever have children, that I needed to stay on the pill, and that my sister would most likely have it as well! While I was upset by this at the time, I had never had great maternal instincts so quickly made peace with this information. My sister does have PCOS but luckily to a much lesser degree than I do. I hope it doesn’t impact her fertility later in life as she'll be an amazing Mum!
Even though I’d made my peace with PCOS, I did go through a period of trying to assign blame. PCOS is often hereditary; I was angry at my parents for giving me this. I also used it as an excuse for being overweight. When I was 21, there was no PCOS support other than “Go lose weight!”, and little or no advice on how to effectively lose weight for someone with PCOS.
Sometime in my early-twenties I decided I was sick of taking the pill; I didn’t like how it made my body feel. I went to see a Gynaecologist who finally sent me off for an internal ultrasound and alas, my ovaries were absolutely riddled with cysts. We decided that an IUD would best suit my lifestyle; I was in no hurry to have kids (IUDs stay in for up to 5 years). There was also a big push for PCOS sufferers to eat a Low-GI diet, so I made some minor changes to my diet but never really noticed any changes.
By this age my weight was stable in the 100 – 110 kg range.
At 25 I made the decision to have a gastric band inserted to help manage my weight. I had seen two people I worked with have them with success, so I thought I’d be OK. I did have some negative reactions from friends who said that I should be able to find another way, but after 6 months of going to an intense Tae-Bo Boot Camp and losing little weight, I had had enough. I also have a Hiatus Hernia and the band had the additional benefit of eliminating the need to take daily medication for this.
At the end April of 2006 I had the surgery. I rapidly lost weight; sometimes 1kg a day. It was so exciting!
But to be honest with you, I wasn’t eating “real” food; I was always in pain and threw up multiple times a day. Some days I would survive on Big-Ms, frozen Cottage-Pie meals, mashed potato, Mars bars, and Cup-a-soups - the crappy food list went on. The band just didn’t allow for normal food unless you chewed it 100 times, turning it into baby food, and even then it would often get stuck (the band restricts the size of the entry way into the stomach), cause pain and come back up! Because I couldn’t keep anything down the weight just kept coming off. I got down to 89kg’s a weight I hadn’t been since Year 11!
After a year I started having the band loosened, for two reasons. Firstly, I was going overseas with my Mum and wanted to not worry about where the closest place to throw up was and to be able to enjoy the world’s food. Secondly, in the words of my sister “but you love going to the Market and buying fresh healthy food”, and she was right! It was not a life I wanted to live. The amount of vomiting I was doing was putting me at high risk of oesophageal cancer, and the band was no longer helping my hernia I was back on the daily medication.
After 4 years, and lots of back and forth with the doctors, I decided to have the band taken out. One of the things they don’t tell you when you have it in is that if you take it out the amount of scarring and scar tissue left behind means that it’s like having a ghost gastric-band for life! I still can’t eat bread, pizza, big meaty meals, pasta, rice, etc, or on occasion a “normal sized meal” without feeling overly full and “productively regurgitating” to relieve the pain. (Essentially the pain of trying to keep the food in your oesophagus whilst it attempts to pass the entry into your stomach can sometimes be too painful. Productive regurgitation is letting the food back out, it's not traditional vomiting as it hasn't made it into the stomach cavity)
I also went to see an Endocrinologist. The specialist I saw was very lovely and we discussed lots of options. Given I didn’t want to get pregnant; my options were focussed on maintaining the health of my uterus/cervix. Not being on some form of contraceptive was not an option as the hormones help to protect the uterus/cervix from cancer. The Endocrinologist also suggested I take more androgen blockers and maybe some Metformin (to assist in lowering blood sugar levels and appetite). She did some tests and I wasn’t in the pre-diabetic zone so she gave me a script for Metformin, as an “if you want to”, and a script for more androgen blockers. She also gave me a referral to a local gynaecologist to discuss contraceptive options. I decided not to take any of the prescriptions. The cost and lack of previous improvement meant I just wasn’t prepared to fill my body with more drugs. I did however go to see the gynaecologist and since that time I’ve been on the Nuvaring, which I love and currently use.
So now you know where I've come from medically, physically and health wise, I'm going to talk about how I start to tackle or overcome these issues in part 2.
** I will discuss these points later in other blog posts.