What Is PCOS & What Are Some Ways to Manage?
Chances are that if you’re a person who happens to have ovaries, you’ve probably heard about a little thing called Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, more commonly known as PCOS. Maybe you heard about it from your bestie who went in for a routine check-up only to find that they had cysts on their ovaries, or maybe it was when model Romee Strijd shared that she was expecting a little bundle of joy two years after she was first diagnosed with the disorder. Or maybe it’s a condition that you've personally been diagnosed with.
It’s a pretty common disorder — PCOS affects one in 10 girls of reproductive age, women, or people with ovaries, and it’s across all ethnicities, so it’s pretty common, and the numbers are actually rising. So, you’re far from alone.
The great news is that PCOS is actually very treatable. So, before you go down an internet rabbit hole and start freaking out, read on for everything you need to know about living with PCOS.
What Exactly is PCOS?
First of all, although “polycystic ovary syndrome” sounds daunting, those with ovaries shouldn’t be too stressed” To be clear, syndrome just means certain things or certain symptoms that are grouped together. So just know that you have this grouping that’s associated with certain factors. You’re good, okay?
While doctors don’t know exactly what causes PCOS (it’s a multifactorial condition which simply means there are many symptoms that can contribute to someone’s diagnosis with PCOS), most experts think several contributors play a role, such as:
PCOS can likely be passed down genetically, meaning someone is much more likely to have the disorder if a first-degree relative also has it. One recent study found that those with PCOS have mothers with the disorder about one-fourth of the time, and a sister with the disorder one-third of the time. Another study found that identical twins were about twice as likely as non-identical twins or sisters to both have PCOS. To this day, it’s still quite clear as to which genes are involved in PCOS-risk inheritance.
For some women with PCOS, hormonal imbalances are likely caused by insulin excess. Insulin, the hormone responsible for processing sugar/glucose, also acts as a signal to the ovaries to produce testosterone.
When someone is insulin resistant (when they have a lower sensitivity to insulin for processing glucose), their body adjusts by making more insulin. This leads to much higher levels of testosterone, which can slow or stop the growth and release of eggs from the ovary and suppress the production of hormones like progesterone and estrogen that go along with a functioning menstrual cycle.
Roughly half to two-thirds of people with PCOS have been found to be insulin resistant. This group also tends to experience more symptoms and health complications of the disorder over time.
Inflammation is when tissue becomes swollen, red, and warmer than usual, often in response to an infection or injury. You can see inflammation at work when you twist your ankle or cut yourself. We all know that it sucks because sometimes it’s pretty painful.
But inflammation inside the body can also happen in response to stress, obesity, illness, and even genetics. As with insulin resistance, inflammation causes the body to produce extra insulin, creating the same pathway to testosterone production.
Those with PCOS are much more likely to have chronic low-grade inflammation, which is measured via blood tests for C-reactive protein (CRP is a marker of inflammation in the body). The root cause of inflammation in those with PCOS is, unfortunately, still unclear.
Researchers are looking into the role of environmental endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) in causing PCOS. Prenatal or developmental exposure to certain compounds in cigarettes, consumer products, and air pollution may predispose a baby to develop PCOS later in life. Some of the compounds being investigated are bisphenol A (BPA), triclocarban, phthalates, and nicotine. They can be found amongst many different items you might use everyday like cosmetics, soaps, plastics, clothing, and toys, as well as in air pollution. They’re lowkey all around us. These compounds may alter the fetal environment by changing the levels of estrogens and androgens and may contribute to PCOS-related changes in fetal programming.
Symptoms of PCOS
Some of the most common symptoms of PCOS include:
You have irregular periods.
This can mean a period every two to three months or even a period once or twice a year. The length between periods might vary, but when it does come, it can be pretty heavy. We know it’s a bit much, but it’s a part of life when you have PCOS.
You experience unexplained weight gain.
Hormonal issues are notorious for causing added weight.
Your skin erupts with acne.
Hormonal shifts can lead to dryness, oily skin, and pimples, especially on areas like the face, chest, and upper back.
You grow hair in unexpected places.
This is known as hirsutism. Basically, hair growth on places like your chin, sides of your face, chest, back, and your tummy. On the flip side, you might also experience male-pattern baldness.
You have difficulty getting pregnant.
Since you don’t ovulate on a regular month-to-month basis, when you have PCOS, it can be much more challenging to conceive.
You’re tired all the time.
Many people with PCOS report increased fatigue and low energy.
Does Everyone Who Has Cysts on Their Ovaries Have PCOS?
One common misconception associated with PCOS is that anyone who has cysts on their ovaries has the condition, which isn’t true. In fact, the truth is that everyone has cysts on their ovaries and those cysts aren’t always a cause for concern.
You see, anyone who has ovaries stores their eggs in cysts (a little fluid-filled balloon). So we have these cysts every single month, and then they pop or ovulate, followed by a period two weeks later if we’re not pregnant. Sometimes, these cysts can rupture — which can be excruciatingly painful and may take someone to the ER — but this popping happens every month and is not indicative of PCOS.
When it comes to PCOS, the period issues are because of anovulation, meaning that people stop ovulating but the cysts don’t pop. That’s why you end up with a lot of cysts on the ovary.
How to Care for PCOS Flare-Ups
Between the long list of possible PCOS symptoms and the infrequency with which people are accurately diagnosed, if you have (or think you might have) this common disorder, it’s understandable that you might be feeling a little stressed right about now. Take a deep breath, boo. Remember, you got this.
Though PCOS is a serious condition that can’t be “cured,” there are plenty of treatment options that can alleviate symptoms and prevent long-term complications.
Here are some of the best tips for living with PCOS:
Adopt different habits. By eating a diet low in carbs and refined sugars, you can help reverse the imbalances of glucose and insulin in your body that cause PCOS symptoms to flare up.
Use quality skincare products. To combat acne and dry skin, which are both common in those with PCOS, be sure to follow a top-notch skincare routine each day using quality skin care products, like the ones from Topicals. Our Brightening and Clearing Gel, Faded, gently fades away stubborn marks, scars, and spots, and our super hydrating mask, Like Butter, is packed with powerful botanicals for skin so smooth, it’s like butter.
Avoid stimulants. Coffee and other stimulants tend to cause increases in insulin production, which has proven to have a negative impact on those with PCOS. We know cappuccinos are irresistible, but you have to let them go.
Relax. Make time to watch an old movie, take a bubble bath, or do something else that you really enjoy doing every once in a while. It can make the biggest difference in how you feel on the inside. Treat yourself!
Maintain a positive attitude. Maintaining a positive attitude is essential to realizing positive outcomes in any aspect of life. Be positive and create opportunities for yourself that can help you to realize your dreams. Just because you have PCOS doesn’t mean you can’t live your best life.
PCOS may seem challenging to live with, but there are actually many ways to help keep flare-ups at bay. For instance, using awesome skincare products like the ones found right here at Topicals.
Using only science-backed ingredients and herbals, it’s no wonder why so many people with PCOS turn to Topicals’ medicated botanical formulas to soothe their skin. Whether you’re dealing with excess oil or pimples, Topicals has your back!