More Than Just Period Pains: Polycystic Ovary Syndrome
By: Fauzia Haque, Contributing Writer
Fluctuations in menstruation cycles occur all the time, being an indicator of an assigned-female-at-birth (AFAB) person’s overall well-being. Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) is a common hormonal disorder that affects menstruators of any age, more specifically those within their reproductive stages. PCOS leads to the inflammation and enlargement of the ovaries with small cysts developing on the external edges. Irregular periods come more often to women with PCOS, whether the period is absent for prolonged periods of time or extended greatly throughout weeks to months. The ovaries can develop follicles, which are tiny sacs of fluid, and thus fail to release eggs at the pace that they should. An increase in androgen, which is a male hormone, can also occur due to PCOS. This imbalance of the hormones leads to the absence of periods and makes it more difficult to conceive a child. According to Healthline, around 2.2-27.6% of AFAB women within their reproductive year (15-44 years old) end up with PCOS. PCOS has been recorded for almost three centuries, making its first known appearance in 1721.
The specific cause of PCOS is still unknown, even after these last three centuries. The medical community has been led to believe that the culprit is the high level of androgen, but the reason as to why androgen is found within the body in elevated amounts is still unknown. Any number of factors, such as genes, resistance to insulin, and inflammation have all been tied to an excess of androgen production within the AFAB female body. There is minimal scientific research that has found a possible genetically heritable linkage for those who develop PCOS. If the cells within the body become resistant to insulin, blood sugar rises and the body tries to output more insulin in an attempt to maintain homeostasis. Low-grade inflammation, which relates to white blood cell production and their ability to fight and defend the body’s immune system, can be a systematic indicator for increasing androgen levels which stimulates and induces an environment for the ovaries to become polycystic.
Those with PCOS usually undergo and experience an anomaly of different symptoms. Irregular periods are among the more common and prominent symptoms, holding a possibility of having less than at least nine periods a year or bleeding abnormally heavily for a prolonged amount of time. Hirsutism, which is the condition of excessive hair growth, can appear all over the body and face. Excessive acne due to the increased androgen levels that make the skin oilier than usual also occurs and can cause breakouts in unexpected places like the back, belly, and areas of the face where it never used to be. Most menstruators with PCOS experience large weight gains that make them overweight or lead to obesity, which can be more severe due to insulin resistance and leads to type 2 diabetes. Baldness can occur where thinning of the hair happens but the individual experiences it in the pattern that an AMAB male typically would. Excessive hyperpigmentation and dark spots can arise throughout the body and headaches can become more prominent due to hormonal fluctuations.
As for the complications, one of the most striking and grief-inducing implications that PCOS is responsible for is infertility. Many AFAB women who have PCOS have trouble becoming pregnant, but that does not mean that they give up on the prospect. Leading ladies and internet personalities within western culture like Lea Michele from Glee and Sasha Pieterse from Pretty Little Liars are among some of Hollywood’s prominent female actresses who have experienced their fair share of troubles and insecurities with PCOS. Even after these struggles or possible risks like miscarriage or premature birth, these ladies have gushed over their recently born children more than ever. Metabolic syndrome, which causes obesity or heaviness, is prevalent as a compilation. Sleep apnea, depression, endometrial cancer of the uterus lining, anxiety, eating disorders, and nonalcoholic steatohepatitis are all possible health issues associated with PCOS as well.
Nonetheless, those struggling with PCOS are some of the strongest out there. Harnaam Kaur, an influential young woman who has been vocal about her experiences with PCOS and hirsutism, provides a safe platform that you can check out anytime in order to know that you are not alone! Words of affirmation only go so far and it is important to know that PCOS does not deplete your status as a woman, nor does being infertile. If you or a friend has been experiencing any of the aforementioned symptoms, please get checked by a doctor today!
Link to cover image: https://media.istockphoto.com/vectors/women-health-floral-infographic-of-polycystic-ovary-syndrome-scheme-vector-id1239538141?k=6&m=1239538141&s=612x612&w=0&h=0v-kfZGxWOd1hyyAkuIJm3f_SShkvB2MwIKoGkDMRB0=