Everything You Need To Know About PCOS

What the hell is PCOS? Find out everything you need to know about Polycystic Ovary Syndrome. | Illustration by Sarah Wintner

What the hell is PCOS? Find out everything you need to know about Polycystic Ovary Syndrome. | Illustration by Sarah Wintner

Do you have irregular periods? Cystic acne? Hair growing super coarsely in some areas of your body? Okay, next question: Does it feel like your body is going effing crazy? You might want to mozy on down to your doctor and see if you have PCOS: Polycystic Ovary Syndrome.

Don’t freak out about the scary sounding name just yet. First, find out everything you need to know about PCOS.

What is PCOS?

Polycystic Ovary Syndrome is an endocrine disorder. If you remember from your biology lessons, the endocrine system control hormone glands, so basically PCOS is the result of your hormone levels getting a little effed up. The most common trait that PCOS suffers have in common are enlarged, fluid filled ovaries, but it’s important to note that these ovarian cysts don’t cause PCOS, they’re just the result of it.

Okay, so other than enlarged ovaries what happens if you have PCOS?

Yeah, so here’s the part that may make you feel a little loopy: PCOS symptoms are all over the place. While enlarged ovaries are an incredibly common trait, it’s possible to still have PCOS even if the ovaries are removed. But there are some symptoms that usually spar the “uh oh I think something is wrong down there” question. For example, if you have irregular periods–infrequent periods, incredibly heavy periods, etc–you might have PCOS. Have you noticed some excess, male-pattern hair growth, especially on your face? What about thinning hair or hair loss from your scalp.You might have PCOS. Cystic acne is another possible PCOS symptom. Obesity increases one’s chance of having PCOS and can be the catalyst of PCOS related complications down the road.

What causes it?

idk shrug

That’s another thing that sucks about PCOS: Nobody has a clue as to what causes it. But like several other diseases and disorders, it might be hereditary.

Okay but what’s so bad about it? I’m not going to die or something if I have it, right?

PCOS definitely isn’t a death sentence, but in the worst case scenarios it can potentially lead to some nasty things. This includes infertility, type II diabetes, high blood pressure, sleep apnea, abnormal uterine bleeding, cholesterol abnormalities and uterine cancer. Obesity increases the chance of the aforementioned complications, so if you’re obese be weary of that!

I have some of those symptoms…how will I know for sure that it’s PCOS?

You won’t know until you see your doctor. Irregular periods, acne and male-pattern hair growth should be your biggest “OMG go to the doctor right now” signs, so do that! Your doctor may do all sorts of things to determine whether or not you have PCOS including a pelvic exam, blood tests, and/or an ultrasound. The ultrasound will allow your doctor to see if your ovaries are looking a little funky. That’s right, ultra sounds aren’t just for pregnant women! Your doctor will also go over your general medical history, including hat medications you’ve been on, menstrual history, weight changes, etc.

Your visit to the doctor might determine that you don’t have PCOS at all, but it’s better to be safe than sorry, right?

If I have PCOS how do I treat it?

birth control gif

Treatment really depends on what symptoms you exhibit. Irregular periods? Your doctor might suggest placing you on birth control to get them regulated. Acne? A dermatologist can offer a prescription for acne treatments that are right for you. Male-pattern hair growth is a tricky one, but birth control and other medications which specifically target your excess androgen–a hormone which helps develop male-sex characteristics like male-pattern hair growth. If you’re obese, a doctor will recommend a diet overhaul and exercise.

In other words, your doctor will know what is right or you. It won’t necessarily won’t make your PCOS disappear, but it’ll make the symptoms a little more controlled.

Wait, I have PCOS and I don’t have all of those symptoms!

This is pretty common, actually. Like I said earlier, some people with PCOS only experience irregular periods, others only experience excess facial hair. You’re not out of the woods just because you don’t have all of the symptoms!

I have PCOS and my facial hair is so stressful! What should I do about it?

You’re not alone. Earlier this year we highlighted Harnaam Kaur, a 23-year-old woman with PCOS who made the brave decision to stop removing her facial hair. Yep, after years of bullying and slathering her face with creams and waxes, she decided to let it grow out. A big part of her motivation was being baptized as a sikh, but hey, she feels sexier and more feminine now that she’s at peace with her hair.

But that takes a lot of guts, a lot of guts that many women, understandably, don’t have in a society in which we’ve been socialized to be self-conscious at even the slightest bit of leg stubble. Definitely talk to a doctor about medication that targets your increased androgen levels. Other than that, do whatever hair removal methods you’re comfortable with but try not to drive yourself crazy. Anybody who makes fun of you for some hair on your chin is a loser who doesn’t deserve your attention. Hang in there and bond with other PCOS sufferers online. Try looking through the PCOS tag on Tumblr and see what you find.

I feel so alone in this!

clueless hug

Understandable! But up to 10 percent of women have PCOS so you’re definitely not alone. Just make sure that you see a doctor about getting your symptoms under control. Otherwise you can live a totally normal life even with PCOS. You can do it, girl!

Do you have PCOS? What have to done to control it? What has helped and what hasn’t? Tell us in the comments!

You can follow the author, Ashley Reese, on Twitter or Instagram. Don’t worry, she doesn’t bite!

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  • Shell

    Laser hair removal offers some help, not exactly the most comfortable thing ever but it does help after a while. It’s not permanent as people like to think. It takes sessions and then over a period of time it has to be touched up but it does help with the facial hair mess that comes with pcos. Also, birth control carries many of its own risks not just blood clots. Recently a new lawsuit is out for a condition associated with birth control causing intracranial hypertension, it’s a nightmare to say the least. (It’s best to look online for details of that as there’s a ton of things that alone entails) however, birth control does help. I’ve found among my own experience that women with pcos also have higher chances of endometriosis as well — just to add salt to a wound. Myself after yrs of struggling with it and endometriosis and pcos causing my uterus to grow abnormally, ended up having a hysterectomy, leaving ovaries but taking everything else out. Many surgeries to remove severe fibroids and cysts but even after hysterectomy I deal with a lot of issues with the pcos. Any woman can get pcos. Regardless of height weight nationality etc. despite all the medications and beauty things on the market to help and things in between… there isn’t really a cure for it unfortunately. Surgery does only so much same with medication and beauty supplies.

  • Lubna

    I found out I have PCOS in August and started taking birth control pills in September. My acne is slowly getting better and my doctor said it will take about 6 months for there to be changes in male-pattern hair growth. The birth control is really helping and I’m so happy I got tested.