It’s World PCOS Awareness Month!
And as an ode to all the cysters worldwide, I thought I should share how I learned about PCOS and everything else in between.
So, I don’t have PCOS (thought I should start by saying that). But my best friend (Coleta Mathai), who was gracious enough to allow me to share her story, does.
Before she got diagnosed with PCOS in 2021, Coleta thought she was abnormal (a term we fully embrace in our circle).
While we had regular periods, like spot-on the day our period trackers say we gon’ have our periods spot-on, hers were more capricious. She’d have them say in May and then have them again in August.
Yeah, you can see how that went and would cause panic and anxiety (especially when you have a boyfriend, are sexually active, and can’t tell if you’ve gotten pregnant or it’s your body living its crazy, weird, best life!)
Coleta is the most active and fit human I know. She can pull a yoga pose effortlessly and climb five flights of stairs without taking a much-needed breather break. However, her body weight kept increasing, which didn’t make sense. She also eats organic, is lactose intolerant, and is the ambassador of smoothies and healthy juices.
But whenever she’d visit a doctor with the slightest discomfort (even H. pylori), they’d just cut right into her weight and how she needs to exercise, eat healthier, and no offense, but all the bull*** doctors pull when they don’t know your history.
Fast forward to 2021, and we were intentional about leading healthier lives by getting full-body scans, so Coleta booked an appointment with a gynecologist. After explaining her menstrual cycle history, family history, and all that, the gyno recommended specific tests, but she knew Coleta was exhibiting signs of PCOS.
Which, it turns out, she did have.
It was scary. A new territory. A condition that you can’t get rid of by taking some OTC pills. And worse, knowing the fact that you might not be able to conceive was downright disheartening.
And there was also the fact that neither of us knew what PCOS involved. Not many knew or still don’t know about the condition (yes, even medical personnel themselves), and there was no solid community of cysters that she could join or talk to.
But for you who’s been struggling to manage your symptoms or have been experiencing irregular periods, acne, excessive hair growth and don’t know where to start, in celebration of World PCOS Awareness Month and in honor of my badass bestie who got pregnant and just delivered the healthiest baby alive, I decided to offer you some guidance on how you can effectively manage your symptoms (based on the experience of fellow cysters) and make living with PCOS easier, comfortable and happier.
What Is PCOS?
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Classified as a common hormonal disorder, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) involves the ovaries producing an abnormal count of androgens (male sex hormones).
This hormonal imbalance triggers your body to skip menstruation and makes it difficult for them to conceive.
PCOS also causes excessive weight gain, insulin resistance, unwarranted (just downright disrespectful) hair growth on the face and body, and sometimes baldness.
It contributes to long-term health concerns such as cardiovascular diseases, metabolic syndrome, sleep apnea, and type 2 diabetes.
There’s no cure for PCOS. However, certain birth control pills, diabetes medication, and regular exercise can help minimize the symptoms and prevent some health conditions.
What Are The Causes Of PCOS?
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There is no known cause of PCOS. However, physicians say it might be genetic. You are more likely to have PCOS if your mother or sister has it.
One is also likely to have the condition if you have insulin resistance or are obese. Insulin levels build up and may trigger higher androgen levels.
What Are The Symptoms Of PCOS?
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Some women see PCOS symptoms around the time of their first period. Others discover they have it after they’ve gained a lot of weight or have trouble conceiving.
The most common symptoms of PCOS may include:
- Irregular periods (oligomenorrhoea), missed periods, or unusually light periods
- Hair growth (hirsutism) – over 70% of women living with PCOS grow hair on their face and body – including their chin, chest, back, and belly
- Male pattern baldness – hair on the scalp gets thinner and might fall out
- Acne or oily skin
- Weight gain, especially around the abdomen
- Darkening of the skin – dark or thick skin patches around the neck, in the groin, and under your boobs
- Tiny pieces of excess skin on the armpits or neck (skin tags)
- Migraines – hormonal changes can trigger migraines and headaches in some women
- Ovaries that are large or have numerous cysts
Women living with PCOS are also at a higher risk for several health conditions, such as:
- Type 2 Diabetes
- Metabolic Syndrome
- Cardiovascular Diseases
- Obstructive Sleep Apnea
- Mood Disorders
Remember, symptoms vary from one cyster or another. So, if you suspect you might be showing signs of PCOS, check with your physician ASAP for a professional diagnosis.
How Is PCOS Diagnosed?
Your gynecologist will question your medical history and symptoms (irregular menstrual cycle, weight gain, etc.). You’ll also have to get a physical exam (pelvic exam, which involves checking the health of your vagina and pelvis).
Some symptoms of PCOS are similar to those caused by other health concerns. So, your doctor might also have to conduct tests such as:
Blood Tests – checks for high levels of androgens and other hormones. The physician might also examine your blood glucose, cholesterol, and triglyceride levels.
Pelvic Ultrasound – involves using sound waves to check the size of your ovaries and see if they have cysts. Your physician might also insist on checking the thickness of the lining of the uterus or endometrium.
Effective Strategies To Help You Cope With PCOS
There’s no cure for PCOS. However, there are strategies you can implement to help manage the symptoms.
And because we know you wouldn’t take our word for it, we conducted research, talked to some cysters, and here’s what they shared about how they manage their symptoms:
I had to start with my BFF, obvi. She’s not really active about it, but for the longest time, and based on her gynecologist’s recommendation, she was on birth control.
Yep. Those daily pills you take to help prevent pregnancy were what Coleta used to take to help regulate her menses (which became slightly regular after).
She also did a bit of yoga, increased her water intake (not that she needed to anyway; she’s religious about taking water), and drank apple cider vinegar tonic every night. ACV is thought to help boost the body’s natural system while balancing pH levels. It also helped Coleta with her insomnia and regulated her hormones.
I’m using the past tense because she just had the healthiest baby girl, and now, we’re just waiting to see what happens next.
Keke Palmer shared in December 2022 via her IG page that PCOS had been attacking her from the inside out, and she didn’t have a clue. She shared a selfie of her with acne, calling it the least harmful side effect.
“Hey you guys…Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome has been attacking me from the inside out my entire life, and I had no idea. My acne has been so bad that people in my field offered to pay for me to get it fixed. I tried EVERYTHING,” she wrote.
“I did Accutane TWICE. People say drink water, have a better diet, but I did all that. I ate all the “right” things, my blood tests were fine. But it took ME taking a personal look into my family that has a history of diabetes and obesity, to understand what was ACTUALLY happening with me.”
She also recalled that doctors struggled to diagnose her and how one even recommended a measles dose.
“Unfortunately, doctors are people, and if you don’t ‘look the part’, they may not think that’s your problem. They may not even suggest it if you ‘look healthy’, whatever that means! I came to a doctor in tears once, and all they offered was a measles vaccine… Exactly.”
“I’m posting this to say that it’s okay and we can help ourselves,” she added.
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And it is.
As for how Keke manages her PCOS symptoms, she exercises self-care, doesn’t hide her skin issues anymore, and stays healthy with good food and exercise.
And guess what? Even with all the obstacles thrown her way, she got pregnant, had a healthy baby, and now she’s the hottest, sexiest mama on the planet.
It just goes to show that nothing is ever impossible!
English fashion designer Posh Spice has been open about her PCOS journey, irregular periods, and struggles with infertility for years. However, being in the public eye didn’t really help Victoria with the stress of trying to conceive.
“I was really feeling the pressure,” Victoria told US Weekly a few years ago.
“Every time I go out, someone says to me: ‘Are you pregnant?’ At first, I tried to dodge these questions with a vague response and a smile, but not I have resorted to overt, brutal honesty,” she continued.
She added that she’s learned to keep that big smile and say something like, “Actually, I’m struggling with infertility because of my PCOS, so my husband and I have been through several fertility treatments.”
Apart from being honest with her journey, Victoria also consumes healthy meals, exercises regularly, and maintains a strong and reliable support system (her husband and family) to help manage her symptoms.
Grown-ish and How I Met Your Father star Francia Raisa recently revealed that she was “learning how to live with PCOS” in her IG stories.
Raisa followed up a week later, saying her diagnosis came when she decided to freeze her eggs two years ago.
“During those tests was when I found out, and a lot of stuff made sense,” she wrote.
“But I was advised on how to take of it or how to manage it. So it’s really been through word of mouth with girlfriends trying to figure something out. I don’t necessarily have a solution or answer.”
In another IG story, she said she used to feel like “an insane person until she found out.” Since then, she’s made numerous lifestyle changes, including yoga in her workout routine, talking to friends and family about her symptoms, and incorporating healthy meal plans into her diet.
Harnaam Kaur is notably the most famous celebrity cyster.
She was diagnosed with PCOS at age 12 – earlier than most – and started experiencing facial hair growth.
“I stuck out like a sore thumb, so it was easy for people to harass me,” Kaur informed ITV in 2022.
She tried waxing her facial hair for years until she turned 16 when she decided to embrace her quirks and let her beautiful beard grow out.
Kaur became a renowned model and activist and even launched her own beauty brand – one that celebrates individuality and uniqueness, Harnaam Kaur Beauty. She also holds the Guinness World Record for the youngest female with a full beard.
As part of her mission to raise awareness and help other babes struggling with PCOS, Harnaam Kaur also hosts various PCOS wellness retreats where cysters can share their stories, learn how to manage the symptoms from experts, and take in activities such as reiki, crystal healing and yoga sessions (practices that have been said to help with PCOS symptoms.)
“I haven’t spoken about it much, but I put on so much weight due to PCOS. I used to be so scared about talking about weight because I don’t want people saying I’m fat shaming, but this is real shit,” Kaur informed Dazed Digital earlier this year.
“I ended up getting Type 2 diabetes (a condition individuals with PCOS have an increased risk of). So now I’m looking after my health better. I have a clean diet, I work out every day doing weights and cardio, and I’ve got two dogs that keep me active. I’m on medication, too.”
If you don’t follow Candice Craig, babe, it’s time to because she has dedicated her space to talking about PCOS. She even has a book, Living With PCOS: Road To Reversal.
The dancer, entrepreneur, and actress was diagnosed with PCOS a few years back. Since then, she’s been on panels, interviews, and even in front of Congress (as an advocate for fellow cysters), talking about her struggle with self-love and emotional, mental, and physical health as a woman living with PCOS.
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Candice also has a website, pcoswithcandice.com, where she helps other cysters learn how to manage their symptoms and live healthier and happier lives with PCOS. She takes you through her journey of adopting an alkaline-based, gluten-free, and dairy-free diet and how important it is for you to incorporate various types of workouts, meditating, and intentionally living a stress-free life.
Additionally, Candice provides self-care and health tips that’ll help you get back to doing things that soothe your soul and make you happy.
Girl next door, everyone’s BFF and Black Girl Joy ambassador, Chrisette Michele, has been through it when it comes to her reproductive health. Fibroids, endometriosis, PCOS, ovarian cysts, you name it. She’s experienced it.
“My cramps were so bad every month that sometimes I had to be rushed off an airplane, or an airplane had to land to rush me to hospital because I was in that much pain,” she told BlackDoctor.org.
“So after some time, I decided there’s no way this is normal. And so, so many of my sisters – by ‘sisters’, I just mean girls in the struggle – were like, ‘You know what? That happens to me,’ and I was like, ‘You know what? I’m gonna talk to my doctor about this.'”
Chrisette’s doctor initially put her on a vegan diet, focusing primarily on inflammatory foods so that (fibroids) wouldn’t grow as big as they could. This led her to eventually transition into a raw vegan diet – like the super hardcore that involves peaches for breakfast, watermelon, lettuce, arugula, and cherries for lunch.
But even with the sharp focus on her eating habits, Chrisette was still experiencing extreme discomfort, so much so that she was rushed to the ER to get one of her ovaries removed.
“It was the scariest thing that ever happened to me…this was a turning point for me to learn more about PCOS and really start talking about it,” she said.
“I wanted to let other people know because I kind of wanted people to know that they weren’t by themselves. And, I wanted to see who else was in this struggle with me.”
And as for her vegan diet? She had to give it up because:
“There’s no way that you can be a vegan and have PCOS at the same time, and you DEFINITELY cannot be a raw vegan and have PCOS.”
“You need to be on a Paleo diet,” Chrisette’s holistic doctor told her.
And she adopted it (though she struggled with it for a moment), went sugar-free, incorporated various types of workouts into her routine, got on medication, and channeled unmatched badassery into loving her life unapologetically!
Wendy Kimani, or wendykims, is one of the most vocal cysters on social media. She creates content around it and encourages women living with PCOS to live their best lives.
Wendy, who keeps reminding her followers that PCOS presents differently in every woman, says she manages her symptoms by incorporating foods with low glycemic index, going sugar-free, having small amounts of complex carbs, and eating healthy fats and snacks like nuts to avoid binging.
Wendy is pre-diabetic, so she needed to reduce her carbs intake and increase her protein and healthy fats (these help reduce the insulin spike in her body, which, in turn, reverses the hormonal imbalance).
Walking is also one of the best, most uncomplicated, and most relaxing workouts you can add to your routine as a cyster. It not only helps with weight loss and with your stress hormones, but it is also incredible for your mental health and managing your PCOS symptoms.
Wendy also reminds other cysters that they’re not alone, and instead of focusing on the negative, they need to replace those thoughts with: PCOS DOES NOT CONTROL ME! PCOS CAN BE REVERSED!
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Frequently Asked Questions
Who Can Get PCOS?
Polycystic ovarian syndrome usually affects women once they start having their menstrual cycle or hit puberty (Harnaam Kaur was diagnosed with PCOS at age 12).
What Is The Best Age To Get Pregnant With PCOS?
You can still conceive until age 37, but it gets more complicated after 32 and even more so after 37.
Women with PCOS have the best chance of getting pregnant naturally before they turn 35, as long as their ovulation is regular and they don’t face other fertility issues.
Having PCOS increases the chances of having a baby that’s larger than expected for their gestational age. This increases the chances of having an emergency cesarean delivery. Babies born to cysters also have a greater chance of being admitted to the ICU (neonatal intensive care unit, to be specific).
Can IVF Or ICSI Help A Woman With PCOS Get Pregnant?
Yes, it can. However, not all women with PCOS need IVF. They can give birth naturally or conceive with fertility pills that cost about $30 without the need for bank-breaking IVF treatments.
Is It True That Pregnancy Cures Polycystic Ovary Syndrome?
Ummmm…no. It doesn’t.
However, it is pretty common and normal for an individual with PCOS to have a cessation of symptoms while pregnant, and most cysters have improvement and regular periods after conceiving.
PCOS typically causes issues when you’re trying to get pregnant. Still, by following the above strategies and with proper treatments from a fertility specialist, you can have a higher chance of conceiving.