9/27/2018

House Of Pain - PCOS, And How To Manage It


In today's post, I want to start a conversation about PCOS. It's a bit of a personal subject for most people who have it, and one filled with emotional responses for the many people who have to deal with the side effects. But with approximately 3.5 million people in the UK alone diagnosed with the condition, it's definitely a talk worth having in more detail, especially as it's so difficult to get diagnosed with, and is confusing to manage the different elements of the side effects. But as frustrating as PCOS is, it doesn't have to be the bane of your existence.


I was in my late 20s when I was first diagnosed with PCOS. It took well over a decade to discover, with the first signs of weight gain in my early teens being dismissed by doctors amidst the unsolicited advice to "just lose weight". Aged 15 I took twice weekly dance lessons, was at the very start of an eating disorder and felt depressed and frustrated that my body wasn't cooperating. Not knowing what was happening with it was both terrifying and annoying, and even with blood tests showing signs of low iron, it was never something suggested, let alone explored.

I'm now in my mid 30s, so as a teenager, the internet didn't have the wealth of information which now exists. I couldn't simply google my symptoms and then argue to be sent for the relevant tests, and the doctors I saw just weren't interested in helping me, an average, overweight woman. I don't think it was a coincidence that my breakthrough came via a young female doctor who effectively let me sob at her for the whole appointment, before starting me down a path of tests to finally get some answers. I had got to a point where I had dangerously low levels of iron and between freelancing as a photographer and training for a charity 5k, I was just completely broken.

PCOS is a really difficult thing to get diagnosed. Polycistic ovaries (PCO) themselves are very common, and can be found in about 20% of people who produce eggs. For it to be escalated to PCOS, there has to be a second symptom in addition to the ovaries containing many small cysts. And with these symptoms ranging from infertility to acne, to excess hair, to hair loss, there are a multitude of them to choose from. This is one of the bigger problems as to why PCOS is so hard to pin down - the nature of the problem presents so differently from one patient to the next.

For me, I never got the oily skin. If anything my face went the other way, and I'd wake up in the morning with my skin so dry it looked like I'd fell asleep face down in a bag of desiccated coconut. I got a lot of the other more traditional PCOS symptoms though, including excess hair growth on the face and body, thinning hair on my head, dark, rough patches of skin, weight gain, irregular, heavy, painful periods and of course, cysts popping like my highlighter.

At its worst, it definitely impacted my day to day life. All of the cosmetic and pain symptoms aside, at one point it was like I was under some sort of Disney level sleeping curse. I was so tired all of the time, and even taking things like iron supplements didn't do a thing because the underlying problem wasn't being addressed. My body was unable to absorb basic things like vitamin B, D and iron, so I was a real life zombie and it was awful. The 5k I'd trained so hard for was one long limp around the circuit. I felt like something life threatening must have been wrong with me, but as soon as I started to take a synthetic thyroid medication called Levothyroxine, it all began to change. Whilst technically it's a pill to deal with an underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism), the conditions are so intrinsically linked that one sort of piggy backed off the other. My skin got better, my periods were less like a scene from The Shining and my body was better able to absorb the good stuff from fruits and vegetables. It wasn't a cure all by any stretch, but it was a start.

Several years ago I had a Mirena coil fitted, and that was a revelation. But be warned, it's not for everyone. It took almost a year for my one to settle in, made me hopelessly depressed for the first nine months, and as soon as I had made an appointment to get it taken out, it was as if a switch had been flicked and it all clicked into place. Finally my moods were back to normal, and all spotting and heavy bleeding stopped. I've not had a period in years, and it's been fantastic. That said the side effects can be challenging, especially for anyone who already suffers from their mental health so please do talk to your GP's nurse at length to make sure it's the right for you.

PCOS doesn't mean that you have to stop being yourself.
In terms of treatment, you end up just finding a way to deal with things. For me, I keep my cupboard stocked with Earl Grey and Peppermint tea. I invested in good tweezers for those dam chin hair. I learned how to style my hair so that it doesn't show the tiny bald spots which occasionally crop up. I know that if I don't cover my face in something thick like Astral cream at night, it will feel parched in the morning. Rose Hip oil has become my best friend when applying foundation. These things are all trial and error, and you just learn to manage things as you go on. It's just your normal day to day, your usual everyday routine. In addition to Levothyroxine and my Mirena, I take folic acid and iron supplements daily to ward off anaemia. It sort of works for the most part, but you need to go and get your blood tested the second you start feeling off kilter.

I've not had to make any real lifestyle amendments for PCOS other than having a must do skin care regime. The one thing I wish I could kick is soy based products such as Quorn as so many health articles about PCOS pin point soy as a huge problem. But I'm a mushroom hating vegetarian and as much as I would be happy to commit to a life of halloumi and spinach pancakes, I am enough of an adult to realise that I need some variation, and I can only bare to eat Tofu when cooked in a Japanese curry.

I'm a firm believer that you can't beat the NHS for getting you back on track, but there is nothing wrong with supplementing your treatment with natural elements too. It's a bit of a cliche, but as much as I'll endlessly complain when doing it, I found exercise (especially running) to really help. I think it's because I'm focusing on something else and experiencing a different sort of pain as a distraction, but there is also the burst of endorphins at the end where you feel like you've achieved something, even if just a small jog. My partner also introduced me to yoga, and whilst I feel stiff and clunky when doing it, I can feel little changes with how I hold myself the more I commit to it. Yoga has been great for helping to relax when feeling stressed out, and the gentle breathing exercises which can be done sitting down are an invaluable resource for just taking a moment out to clear your mind. Nature's Best have some brilliant posts on their website specifically dealing with PCOS issues coming from all sorts of angles, and is definitely worth a look for some ideas on where to start with dealing with things.

I wish that there were some words of wisdom I could give to people, but the truth is that PCOS is different for everybody. I'd definitely say that you need to listen to your body, and if something doesn't feel right, go to your GP. And don't be afraid to switch GPs until you find someone who will take you seriously and send you off to get your blood tested for everything. It's a long journey of trial and error, but it's not a hopeless one. Invest in some good tweezers, prepare yourself that the road will be bumpy, but know that you will find a way to make things manageable in the end.

Until next time,

Diana x ❤ x

(All photos (c) Diana Thompson / Fashion Loves Photos unless otherwise stated. Please do not reproduce without written permission.) 

2 comments

  1. Thanks for sharing this, it's been insightful and i'm sure will be helpful to many x

    ReplyDelete

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