Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) occurs in over 10,000,000 people worldwide which especially affects 1 in 5 women in the UK. It’s a hidden illness with a large number of symptoms, from depression to excessive hair growth to possible infertility, hindering women in a variety of ways by weakening them and impacting their mental and physical health. For such a severe, and incurable, condition, there’s not much conversation surrounding the topic, or even awareness.
So for example, in one family, if there are nine women amongst the cousins, there is a chance that three or four of them will have PCOS. This metabolic and hormonal disorder is not something we’ve been taught about in Sex Ed, or at any point in our lives, until we get diagnosed with it. PCOS is an illness that can cause very irregular periods and even severe cramps. Having irregular periods are one of the main signs and symptoms of having PCOS, a problem many women will have.
Most common symptoms:
- Irregular periods
- Higher levels of male hormones, which can cause an increase in facial/body hair (face, chest, back or bum)
- Polycystic ovaries àovaries can become enlarged and filled with fluid-filled sacs (follicles) surrounding eggs (but cysts are not always a symptom of PCOS)
Less common, but still symptoms of PCOS:
- Mental healthissues, such as depression
- Difficulty losing weight
- Possible infertility issues OR will be harder to conceive
- Hair loss
Far too often, doctors tell PCOS sufferers not to worry about the illness until they want to conceive. But the journey to become pregnant will be harder for some. The reason it may be difficult to get pregnant is due to PCOS causing irregular ovulation, alongside periods, or failure to ovulate, as well as a large number of hormonal imbalances.
There is no cure for Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome. Many sufferers of this illness are given birth control to combat it, instead of getting the right support and information to combat it or deal with it from the root cause—which are, primarily, the hormones.
We are made to deal with PCOS ourselves, with no support and not much information on the best methods to try and fight it. What any of us can really do is research the best diets to increase vitamins and nutrition for battling the higher risks of developing diabetes, to be able to reduce the risks of weight gain and obesity and everything else that falls under living with PCOS, to how to, when the time comes, try and increase chances of pregnancy, from what foods will help to different methods, such as yoga and other exercises.
PCOS is a very debilitating experience that can be physically and mentally draining.
Due to being left alone in this, the impact PCOS has on mental health is pretty severe.
Low self-esteem and depression, as well as anxiety, are battles that women who have PCOS will be all too familiar with. The guilt from eating a bar of chocolate or a cupcake weighs heavy on someone’s conscience, because gaining weight is easy with PCOS, but losing it is difficult.
It’s a tough journey to venture through, and having to constantly be doing research on the best ways of dealing with it, alone. The lack of conversation, awareness and support around PCOS is detrimental to the mental health of women, from the fears of losing a baby because of not being able to carry to full-term, to not even being able to get pregnant, to the body image and various other illnesses it can cause to the pain from cysts and periods. It doesn’t end and barely anyone even knows about the severity of this illness, because it’s not talked about.
Women who suffer from PCOS are only deemed important when they decide they want to get pregnant. Why is that the only time they’re taken seriously? It’s unfair. And even then, there is a wait time: two miscarriages. Medical intervention needs to happen before deciding to conceive, and even during that period of trying to conceive, instead of waiting for a heartbreak to completely shatter a woman. We need a doctor’s help and support from the moment we decide we want to get pregnant, through to the time we hold our baby. We need more discussion around how to cope with living with PCOS and the effects it has on our wellbeing, because simply being given birth control pills and sent on our merry way is not enough.
Being able to raise awareness on this topic is essential, because it affects so many of the population. The consequences of it are terrifying.
Sumaiya Ahmed is a lifestyle journalist and writer, aiming to break down the boundaries of cultural stigma and shame attached to mental health and sexuality within the South Asian culture and bring marginalised topics to light.
photo by: czulanaswiatlo