Saturday, January 12, 2013

Let's talk about PCOS

PCOS stands for Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, and my doctor diagnosed me with it a couple weeks ago.  What is PCOS?  According to Wikipedia, PCOS "is one of the most common female endocrine disorders. PCOS is a complex, heterogeneous disorder of uncertain etiology, but there is strong evidence that it can to a large degree be classified as a genetic disease."  My doctor told me they've known about since the '30s, but awareness is still relatively low.  In fact, when I went to see a Nutritionist in the beginning of the month, she told me that only a few months ago she went to present about PCOS to a group of nurses and other medical practitioners and at least half had never even heard of PCOS.

Which is probably why when I first went to the gynecologist (already a terrifying experience), I was told that my various problems were simply because I was too fat.  I was literally told that if I just lost weight, everything would go back to normal.  But the problem is, my body has never acted normal.  And if that first doctor had bothered to ask about any other symptoms I had, she may have concluded that PCOS was at least a possibility.

**The symptoms of PCOS include, but are not limited to the following:
  • irregular or no menstrual periods
  • acne
  • obesity/weight gain/inability to lose weight
  • breathing problems while sleeping
  • depression
  • oily skin
  • infertility
  • skin discolorations
  • high cholesterol levels
  • elevated blood pressure
  • excess or abnormal hair growth and distribution
  • pain in the lower abdomen and pelvis
  • multiple ovarian cysts
  • skin tags
Of these 14 possible symptoms, I experience at least eight.  I don't know about the infertility and I've never had my cholesterol levels tested, so those are a mystery.  I just had an ultrasound of my ovaries for the cysts, so I'll have to wait for my follow-up appointment with my doctor for those results, but still. 

Anyway, this whole process started a couple months ago with a regular trip to a gynecologist who finally recognized the signs and referred me to an endocrinologist.  He examined me and ordered blood tests, the sonogram, and a trip to a Nutritionist. 

The Nutritionist appointment was amazing, and I would recommend it for absolutely anyone who's looking to really try and feed himself well.  She was super informative and explained that people with PCOS are usually hypoglycemic, basically meaning that I overproduce insulin when I eat.  This occurs especially when I eat any sort of refined carbohydrate, such as white bread, white potatoes, refined sugar, etc.  Eventually, all this overwork will kill my pancreas, and that's when Type II Diabetes will set in.  There is hope!  By eating a low-carb diet, and sticking to whole-grains and plenty of good protein and veggies, I can help keep my insulin levels steady.  Remember that new diet I referred to in the last post?  Yep, that's it.  Low-carb.

Even so, the Nutritionist and the Endocrinologist both warned me that losing weight with PCOS is extremely difficult.  I have to work twice as hard for half the results.  I can't lie... this is very discouraging.  But the very mention of Type II Diabetes truly has put the fear of God in me.  I don't want to develop diabetes, not if there's anyway I could stop it from happening.  And so I think I've been doing fairly well.  I eat a lot more protein than before, supplemented with plenty of vegetables and the occasional whole-grain carb.  As a self-proclaimed carbaholic, I will admit that I kind of hate it right now.  I miss bread.  It's one of my favorite foods, and severely restricting my rate of consumption is a downer.  Hopefully, I'll grow so accustomed to this new way of eating that it'll seem normal!

**From the Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome Association, Inc.

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