Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) is a complicated, often frustrating condition that affects many women who are experiencing infertility, or may even be a primary cause of infertility. Symptoms typically include recurrent ovarian cysts, excess hair growth (or hair loss similar to male pattern baldness), acne, skin darkening, difficulty losing weight, and, of course, trouble getting pregnant. Often, the condition is not accurately diagnosed until failure to get pregnant results in referral to a reproductive endocrinologist, who has specialized training in PCOS and other endocrine disorders. Any of these conditions taken singly are difficult to deal with – but the combination is often overwhelming for patients who have been diagnosed with PCOS. PCOS is particularly difficult because it’s under-diagnosed, so you may have years of vaguely troubling symptoms before the diagnosis is made and treatment begins. The physical side effects are unattractive and visible to the world – “I’m fat, pimply, and hairy,” as one of my clients stated tearfully. Friends and relatives may assume that you’re lazy or eat too much, and that’s why you aren’t losing weight. As a result, depression and low self-esteem are very common among women with PCOS. I was diagnosed with PCOS in my early twenties, and, as both a patient and a professional, I have learned that there are many things you can do to improve the quality of your life and your health with PCOS. You can take control of your health and mood now by doing the following:
Get educated: Do some research on the web, ask your doctor a lot of questions, join a support group and use it, read the RESOLVE newsletter for help regarding infertility, and stay on top of developments in treatment.
Obtain skilled medical help: Although an internist or general practitioner may diagnose PCOS, it is more likely that a gynecologist, endocrinologist, or reproductive endocrinologist will do so. If you have PCOS, you will most likely want to have an endocrinologist who will prescribe appropriate medications, monitor you for the potential development of Type 2 diabetes, and coordinate with your reproductive endocrinologist while you are trying to get pregnant. Because it is common to experience higher rates of thyroid disorder and heart disease when you have PCOS, it is a good idea to have frequent monitoring. Your physician can also:
- help you lose weight with the assistance of certain medications, and/or referral to a skilled dietician, who can teach you how to eat in a way that contributes to balancing your hormones and managing your symptoms;
- refer you to a good dermatologist, who can help to control or eliminate skin conditions related to PCOS, such as skin darkening and acne, and even help with treatments for hair loss; and
- suggest a therapist or support group to help you cope with the stress of infertility, symptoms of depression, and frustration of dealing with a chronic disease.
Exercise: Yoga will resynchronize your brain, produce deep relaxation, reduce stress, and enhance your acceptance of your body, just as it is in the moment. The cross-lateral motion of walking is also highly effective in regulating PCOS-related insulin resistance, controlling weight – and, surprise! – resynchronizing your brain waves.
Look better so you feel better: In addition to seeking the help of a dermatologist for skin and hair conditions, you might want to actively manage excess hair growth cosmetically. There are many ways to do this, but electrolysis is the only method that has been proven permanent. A licensed electrologist will have a great deal of experience with PCOS patients. Your dermatologist can provide you with a reliable referral. Although weight gain around the middle is frustrating and hard to overcome when you have PCOS, you can learn how to dress well, no matter your size or shape – and you deserve to do so! Seek out current fashions that are figure-friendly, and get help when you need it – if you’re just not good at putting outfits together, ask a friend who is good at it to go shopping with you, use the free services of a department store personal shopper, or spring for a stylist who will help you figure out what works on you.
Don’t forget your brain: Education is only one element of what your mind needs to effectively cope with the stress of PCOS. Sometimes friends, partners, and physicians aren’t quite enough to help you work through your anger, frustration, irritability, and sadness about having PCOS, not being able to get pregnant, or the difficulty you experience losing weight in spite eating well and exercising regularly. A licensed psychologist can help you decrease stress, develop personalized coping methods, enhance your support group, and identify additional resources. Look for a health psychologist who utilizes mind/body methods that include meditation, guided visualization, mindfulness, and other ways of supplementing your good health practices. By actively taking care of your physical and mental health and appearance, you can learn to feel better by knowing that you are doing the best you can with a challenging condition.