Understanding Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS): Shedding Light on a Silent Struggle

Grace And Green - What The Bloody Hell Is Polycystic Ovary Syndrome Featured Image

September 1, 2023

By The Grace & Green Team

It’s difficult to understand Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) unless you have it or know someone that does. Although it’s estimated that 1 in 10 women of reproductive age have PCOS it’s still so easy to feel isolated or that nobody understands.

It can affect everything from our fertility to our mental health, and celebrities including Keke Palmer, Lea Michele, Victoria Beckham and Frankie Bridge have spoken openly about its effect on their lives. Yet PCOS is still a mystery to many of us.

Here we look at some commonly asked questions around PCOS…

What is PCOS?

One of the things that makes understanding PCOS so difficult is the language surrounding it. Firstly, you can have the syndrome without having cysts on your ovaries. You can also have cysts on your ovaries without having the syndrome, and while we’re at it they aren’t cysts at all.

Instead, what we’re referring to as polycystic ovaries, according to the NHS, are ‘ovaries that have become enlarged and contain many fluid-filled sacs (follicles) that surround the eggs.’

The other two features of PCOS are irregular periods – which means your ovaries do not regularly release eggs and excess androgens – high levels of ‘male’ hormones in your body which can cause physical symptoms including excess face and body hair.

What are the symptoms of PCOS?

There are several symptoms that commonly show up in people experiencing PCOS. Among them are abdominal obesity, fatigue, headaches, difficulty sleeping, acne – specifically around the jaw – and mental health difficulties such as depression and anxiety. However, PCOS doesn’t look the same for everyone.

“PCOS is a syndrome, which means that it’s made up of a collection of different symptoms,” said Angela Wilshaw, a dietitian specialising in fertility and menopause. “It’s important to remember that these symptoms can show up differently for everyone which is why it requires such a personalised management plan.”

She recommends keeping a track of your menstrual cycle and other symptoms and taking these with you to the GP. There’s also the option of using companies such as Hertility Health who offer blood tests specifically for PCOS.

Why is PCOS so stressful?

A recent study conducted by the University of Oulu in Finland found that women with PCOS has a ‘poorer quality of life’ than those without the condition, with mental health issues being the most common reason.

“The physical symptoms such as weight gain, excess hair growth and acne can obviously increase feelings of anxiety and be detrimental to our self-confidence,” says Fran Lucraft, Founder of Grace & Green, a sustainable period company who work to ensure period dignity for all. “But anxiety can also be caused by the extremely irregular cycles and never knowing when you’re going to come on your period. It’s essential to have access to free period products available in public spaces including the workplace so those with PCOS aren’t put in difficult situations where there’s no access to products.”

Many companies, such as Channel 4, have launched period policies to help employees who are experiencing difficulties with their period and support those with health conditions including PCOS and endometriosis to get the information they need to manage their symptoms at work.

Can you treat PCOS without going to a doctor?

While there is no cure for PCOS, there are some lifestyle changes you can make to help manage symptoms and balance your hormones.

Wilshaw explains that a diet of low-carb, low-dairy, gluten-free and sugar-free food can be helpful for those with PCOS:

“Whilst it may not sound like fun, there is science behind it. Consuming too many refined carbohydrates such as sugars, white bread, white rice and similar foods can affect blood sugar levels and increase insulin which can in turn cause various issues for people managing PCOS.

“Prioritising high-protein and high-fibre foods can be helpful. Including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, pulses, nuts and seeds may help to maintain insulin levels and have anti-inflammatory properties.”

Another key way to reduce insulin levels is by reducing any unnecessary stress. Regular exercise including yoga, strength training or a walk in nature can help to de-stress. This combination of diet and exercise can be key to managing PCOS.

Living with PCOS

It’s crucial to recognize that PCOS is indeed a silent struggle for many, often hidden beneath the surface, affecting lives in profound ways. But by raising awareness, sharing knowledge, and supporting one another, we can bring this condition into the light, ensuring that no one has to face it alone.

For more information, resources and support visit www.pcosaa.org