Updated: Jul 25
Do you ever put off visiting your GP and then present a bunch of issues at once because you don’t want to feel like you’re wasting their time? I do.
I’ll go to the doctor with a cough or slight temperature and before leaving I’ll quickly add an “oh, by the way… what's this rash?” or “while I’m here, does this freckle look too dark to you?”
When I visited my GP last year, the symptoms I presented weren’t met with the usual, “It appears to be ok.”
Probably because the combo of symptoms this time around weren't your usual throat tickle, freckle or mild rash, but rather depression, adult acne, significant weight-gain & the complete absence of my menstrual cycle for about 10 months.
As nice as it is, not having to suffer through any of the lows that typically come with menstruation, I was also very aware that if I ever had the desire to... ah, procreate… Then it would be very helpful if I were able to... ovulate.
In short, I was presenting many of the 'textbook' symptoms of Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS). For those not familiar with PCOS, it is a complex hormonal condition associated with irregular menstrual cycles, acne, insulin resistance, type2 diabetes, cysts on the ovarian follicles... and infertility.
In hindsight, I'm very grateful that this particular doctor immediately recognised that these symptoms were indicating some pretty serious hormonal issues. I've since heard from so many different women who have had to see several practitioners before being diagnosed or even sent for a simple blood test.
PCOS is a common, often treatable condition and I wouldn't have a conclusive diagnosis until we saw the results of an ultrasound and a few blood tests.
The ultrasound was... uh, a different experience... One involving something called a Transvaginal Probe (use your imagination / if you've ever been pregnant, you're likely already familiar with this type of ultrasound)... but that's a story for another day.
A week later, I was back at the doctor’s office to receive the results. The ultrasound revealed a few small cysts on my ovaries and my fasted blood test results showed increased levels of glucose and insulin, and an imbalance in my androgen levels synonymous with PCOS.
I learned that like many other women with PCOS, my cells are very resistant to the hormone, insulin, and this is why I’ve gained so much weight within such a short timeframe.
I was prescribed Metformin, a medication often used to treat type 2 diabetes, and frequently prescribed to women with PCOS to treat insulin resistance. The drug is formulated to improve insulin sensitivity and to increase my chances of regaining a “normal” menstrual cycle.
Although there's a chance that PCOS could compromise my fertility, it wasn't my immediate concern. I knew that I'd really struggle to lose the weight I'd gained over the past 6-12 months. I knew because I'd been trying for months on end without any success.
Fat loss can significantly reduce the impact of insulin resistance and overall PCOS symptoms. The real battle here, however, is that insulin resistance actually makes you rapidly gain fat, and although exercise can help improve insulin sensitivity, I’d likely have to exercise 3 x longer and harder than any woman who does not have IR/PCOS or any other metabolic disorder in order to see the same results.
I had been a skinny kid, a lean adolescent and a relatively athletic young adult, so learning that I might have issues with my weight and my metabolism for the rest of my life (and with that, a significantly increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes)... well, it was pretty upsetting news.
It’s a vain world we’re living in… and if I’m completely honest, I think that a large reason for my unhappiness, was the fact that I was physically larger than I was before.
In the last 18 months since that initial appointment, I managed to regain a somewhat ‘regular’ menstrual cycle - which doesn't seem like much of an achievement but it is.
Getting back to my ‘normal’ size, however, that’s going to take a lot longer.
I've since connected with PCOS sufferers from all over the world, who are all living their own unique experiences.
Some having lost limbs due to type 2 diabetes, others struggling with heart disease, obesity and other weight-related issues, many struggling with fertility-related issues and going through multiple failed IVF cycles, miscarriage, having to rely on donor eggs and surrogacy.
Many are also overjoyed, having been able to balance their hormones and no longer having PCOS symptoms or in some cases falling pregnant after being told that they never could.
PCOS is a very common condition. Symptoms can present differently in each person. About 20% of young Australian women live with this condition. It is manageable but still not technically curable.
You likely know someone who has PCOS or something similar. I hope that by sharing our experiences, we can better shine a light on common issues that we might feel too uncomfortable to discuss.
For more information about Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, visit https://www.thewomens.org.au/news/polycystic-ovary-syndrome-guidelines-welcomed