Too many women have PCOS without knowing it and that's a problem. Short for Polycistic Ovary Syndrome, PCOS has a significant effect on all areas of a woman's life. Finding out about this hormonal imbalance is only a small percentage of the road to recovery, but most people don't realize just how many factors are beyond the control of a woman with PCOS.
Take any expletive and you have yourself the perfect way to describe PCOS. Although My Big Fat Fabulous Life's Whitney Thore shed some light on this often overlooked condition, it remains one of the top under-diagnosed conditions that a woman may suffer from.
Losing weight isn't as easy as the doctor may make it sound. When you're dealing with intense cravings day in and out, along with insulin resistance, brain fog, and abdominal pain, just "losing weight" isn't as easy as hopping on a treadmill and running away for an hour. With PCOS, your hormones are the enemy and even someone who exercises on a daily basis and eats all the right things could still suffer from the PCOS symptoms and side-effects that are enough to drive even the calmest woman to the brink of insanity.
While it’s not possible to ever reverse PCOS, it is possible to manage it. Let’s have a look at just some of the ways that PCOS can affect a woman’s life.
20 Not Even Knowing You Have It
First and foremost, most women who have PCOS don’t even actually realize that all the symptoms that they have been feeling can be attributed to this debilitating hormonal imbalance.
When you consider that between 5-10% of women of childbearing age have PCOS, that equates to about 5 million women… in the US alone, according to Huffington Post.
The news outlet also states that less than 50% of those women actually get properly diagnosed, which is a shocking number. Awareness is key, but for a woman to not know that she has PCOS can have a tremendous negative impact on her life, making her feel like she’s crazy, when actually, there is an explanation behind all the symptoms.
19 No One Believing You
Second of all, even if prior to getting diagnosed, a woman might find out about PCOS online and identify with all, or at least many of the signs, there is still a good chance that her family doctor might not even agree with her.
Not only do some doctors flat out tell patients that there is nothing to be done about PCOS, which is absolutely untrue, but some doctors may simply resort to the usual lose weight to feel better adage. It’s true that losing weight is integral to PCOS, but it’s not as easy as simply hitting the gym a couple times a week. Insulin resistance plays a huge part and most women have no idea how to escape the vicious cycle on their own.
As Deborah E. Savage told the Independent of her weight loss struggles, but that’s just grazing the surface of the problem: “I would eat like my sister, and I would gain weight but she wouldn't.”
Even a woman’s own partner, friends or family might not believe her when she tries to tell them either about PCOS or the difficulty to lose weight.
18 The Struggle To Get Pregnant
Weight loss aside, there is an even bigger issue with having PCOS that many women struggle with around the globe. “PCOS is the most common cause of female infertility,” as stated by Huffington Post.
Online forums are filled with women sharing their inability to conceive and the struggle is real. But the worst part is how many of these women also face the backlash from their partners for being able to either fall pregnant or carry a baby to term without miscarrying. Not only is the struggle very real, but so is the immense heartache that many women struggling with PCOS and infertility feel every day.
17 Doctor Refusing Help If Not TTC
As hard as the struggle of infertility is, some women are also faced with a completely different problem. Doctors may actually refuse to help deal with the PCOS symptoms if a woman isn’t trying to get pregnant.
This is a problem that I, myself, have stumbled upon. When I first discovered I had PCOS, all of the information I read online suggested that I see an endocrinologist and yet when I quizzed my doctor about a referral, her response was to say that they would be of no help as I wasn’t looking to get pregnant again.
Her suggestion instead? Birth control pills, but if you read about PCOS enough, you’ll find that birth control pills aren’t actually recommended at all as a way to try and treat this condition, especially since they can cause insulin resistance.
16 Cravings That No One Understands
Speaking of insulin resistance, that is another way that a woman’s life changes because of PCOS – or rather, it’s one of the primary reasons.
Insulin resistance is one of the worst parts about PCOS and one that I could spend indefinitely writing about. In short form, insulin resistance basically happens when higher levels of insulin are needed to help keep your blood sugar normal. On top of being a contributing factor towards developing diabetes in the future, insulin resistance is a terrible effect of PCOS to live with.
The general guideline is that a woman with PCOS needs to focus, as Young Women’s Health points out: “eating fewer starches and sugars, and more foods that are high in fiber and low in refined carbohydrates.”
That’s all fine and dandy, except this kind of literature fails to mention the intense cravings that women with PCOS also have to suffer with, making weight loss tremendously difficult. No man can understand these cravings and no amount of self-control is enough to make them subside.
15 Self-Confidence Down The Toilet
As a result of PCOS and insulin resistance, which go hand-in-hand, a woman’s self-confidence can be absolutely wrecked. How do you maintain a positive outlook on life while being unable to lose the weight that you want? Not only that, but how do you stay cheery while trying time-and-time again to get pregnant without success?
Weight loss and infertility are some of the top complaints, but there are many more effects of PCOS on a woman’s body that can also play a huge role in her lack of self-confidence. Hair in all the wrong places is another such reason and it will be covered a little further on.
14 A Raging Beast Inside
With PCOS and insulin resistance also comes another seldom-discussed effect: intense mood swings. As cyster Erika explained to The PCOS Nurse the best:
“I am so frustrated with myself lately. I am noticing more and more how often I have mood swings. One minute I will be a-okay and having such a great day and then get totally upset or depressed. The thing is nothing really happened to trigger any of those emotions. Another thing it affects is my drive to get anything done.”
That is just one snapshot into the life of a woman with PCOS, but it’s a very real one that not enough women discuss. The solution? Getting insulin resistance under control is a huge step in the right direction, but so are other tips such as employing breathing techniques, doing things that make us feel good and of course, the annoying recommendation of exercising every day as well.
13 Intense Brain Fog
Another way a woman’s life might be different if she has PCOS? Brain fog. This is another one of those side-effects that aren’t talked about nearly enough.
Any woman with PCOS will attest to the afternoon slump, as Dr. Datis Kharrazian told PCOS Diet Support: “brain fog can be a symptom of inflammation. [Basically, women with PCOS struggle with] fatigue, brain fog, lack of energy for a number of reasons: unstable blood sugars, sleep disorders or not enough sleep, low grade inflammations.”
This can have a devastating effect on a woman’s daily life, but especially her work life. Imagine trying to get any work down, while dealing with intense brain fog and wanting to lie down despite having just had a coffee. Not a great combination.
12 More Likely To Quit
A woman with PCOS will not only get told by her doctor that she needs to lose weight to get her hormones under control, but she will also read about it on all the PCOS info sites.
That’s lovely and all, but the advice rarely covers what to do when even though you may work your behind at the gym 3-4 times per week at the gym, the scale might still refuse to budge.
You will reassure yourself that it’s because the fat is being converted into muscle, but the fact of the matter is that simply might not be true if you have PCOS.
“When women without PCOS wake up, they burn fat for energy until they eat again. But, annoyingly, women with PCOS don’t start burning fat first thing in the morning. Instead, their bodies are programmed to save it. That means you have to work twice as hard to burn fat and maintain your body weight,” explained Daniel Dumesic, M.D., ob-gyn, to Women’s Health.
The solution? A low-carb diet, ideally a keto one. But even more importantly, keep your blood sugar level by eating smaller meals more frequently during the day.
11 No One Knows How To Eat
Speaking of diet, that’s another way that a woman’s life changes once she realizes that she has PCOS. On one site, she will read to simply eat a combination of healthy carbs, fats, and protein, while sticking to a maximum caloric count. But on another, she might read that carbs are the enemy and that she needs to completely eliminate them. On another still, she will read about how she simply needs to stay away from bad carbs like white pasta, but that she can still eat whole wheat variations.
Confusing? You betcha. Among all this, there is one consensus: you need to do what works best for you, but finding it isn’t easy. Another general guideline to follow is to steer clear of refined carbohydrates, which as Healthline points out, is everything such as white bread, pastries, sugary dessert, and even white potatoes.
But as I already mentioned, most PCOS sources all agree that a ketogenic diet is a way to do, along with going dairy-free. Consulting a dietician is usually the best course of action to get results faster.
10 Significant Effects
We’re so programmed to believe that all women get a period every single month like clockwork, but that simply isn’t true. Many women either go long periods with menstruating, while others may bleed for longer than normal.
All of this can contribute towards a lot of confusion, frustration and worst of all, aggravate all of the other PCOS symptoms.
As PCOS Diet Support explains, “just before ovulation, there is a spike in levels of luteinizing hormone (LH). The problem is that many women with PCOS have high levels of LH throughout their cycle. That means that you aren’t getting that spike of LH so no ovulation is being triggered.”
9 More Likely To Quit Breastfeeding
Once a woman with PCOS gets pregnant and actually carries the baby to term, she might think to herself that she’s home free, especially if she had previously dealt with infertility.
But that’s another popular PCOS misconception. As PCOS.com points out, a “study revealed that an alarming 1 out of 7 women with PCOS were not breastfeeding, as compared to only 1 out of 50 in the non-PCOS group.”
They go on to explain that as PCOS is a hormonal imbalance, it can also have a significant negative impact on milk supply. And the biggest culprit? Insulin resistance. Everything with PCOS is a vicious cycle, but none of which is her fault.
8 Frequent ER Trips
Cysts on the ovaries are one of the main ways that a woman gets diagnose with PCOS. Interestingly, new research has shown that a woman doesn’t necessarily have to have cysts on her ovaries in order to have PCOS, although many doctors still mistakenly (and quite frustratingly) continue to believe the opposite.
But if a woman does have cysts on her ovaries, then those cysts can grow and rupture, sending her to the ER. Some women have the misfortune of this happening multiple times, but even when the cysts don’t rupture, they can lead to a great deal of pain and overall discomfort. How can you enjoy life when you’re feeling constant abdominal pain?
7 Everything Gets Disrupted
According to The PCOS Nutritionist, 25% of women with PCOS have a thyroid condition. They also go on to say that “hypothyroidism is actually one of the most common ‘hidden’ causes of PCOS.”
They go on to explain that this affects women with PCOS because: “Androgens are the main things that link PCOS and hypothyroidism. Hypothyroidism causes increased androgens, which are the main cause of PCOS. This disruption of sex hormones causes infertility, and studies have shown that up to 25% of women suffering from infertility or repeated miscarriages have hypothyroidism.”
So get that thyroid checked just to make sure!
6 Manageing The Hair Problems
Any woman with PCOS knows that there is another effect of having this hormonal imbalance that plagues women worldwide: hair in all the wrong places. You can’t join any online PCOS group without seeing daily pictures of women asking for advice because they’re embarrassed about having hair on their faces and necks.
Many shave, bleach, thread, while others get hair removal… but no matter the solution, it’s still a part of PCOS that keeps many women feeling intense embarrassment and shame. After all, only men are “supposed” to have hair in these places.
I write "supposed to" because countless women all over the world get this too as a result of higher testosterone in their bodies. But as PCOS Diet Support states, “it’s all about our hormones” and it can also extend to thick dark hair in other places, such as the nipples.
5 And Especially Baldness
Hirsutism (excessive body hair in unsuspecting place) isn’t the only hair trouble that women with PCOS suffer from. Hair loss is another major one, enough to have a huge impact on a woman’s daily life as a result of the loss of self-confidence. There’s nothing worse than pulling out numerous strands of hair during every shower and realizing that you’re quickly going bald and once again, it’s all due to testosterone.
“Excess testosterone and other androgens, such as DHEA-S and Androstenedione, also causes inflammation. Our hair follicles are sensitive little creatures, especially to something called oxidative stress. Oxidative stress is when there are too many free radicals and not enough anti-oxidants. It’s caused by inflammation,” explains The PCOS Nutritionist.
4 Extreme Stress Thinking You're Pregnant
We already covered how PCOS disrupts a woman’s menstrual cycle as a result of ovulation not getting triggered. But apart from the discomfort that irregular periods can lead to (bloating, mood changes, breast tenderness), there’s also the added headache that this can bring to a woman not hoping to get pregnant.
Let’s say a woman with PCOS isn’t on birth control and is relying on rubbers as the primary form of contraception. If her periods are irregular and she has no clue when she ovulates, then she could possibly get pregnant on accident, while thinking that she’s in the all clear.
By the same thought, a late period could also cause her a great deal of stress for nothing.
3 Huge Problems Later On
To put it simply, PCOS is an incredible beast to tame. It goes without saying that it’s absolutely imperative for every woman with PCOS to get insulin resistance in particular under control, there are severe consequences of just letting it go. It may be easy to think that you will change your diet next week or will consult in the future, but in the meantime, your chances of diabetes are increasing.
As Healthline states: “In fact, women who experience PCOS in young adulthood are at an elevated risk for diabetes and, potentially, fatal heart problems, later in life.”
It can also lead to high cholesterol and high blood pressures. Gestational pregnancy is almost guaranteed as well.
2 Conceiving Gets Easier With Age -- Unfortunately
As mind-blowing as this may seem, women with PCOS actually become more fertile the older they get. While this might be good news for a woman who has been suffering from infertility for some time, it’s bound to terrify others who have no desire to have kids past 30 or 40.
“As women with PCOS age (and women without PCOS become infertile because they are running out of eggs and losing follicles they need to ovulate), women with PCOS still have eggs remaining and have a more optimal number of follicles than in their youth,” explains PCOS Diva.
But this is just another way that PCOS changes a woman’s life.
1 Light At The End Of The Tunnel
Quite surprisingly, an article recently went viral by New Scientist revealing that there might be hope for cysters worldwide. They wrote:
“Paolo Giacobini at the French National Institute of Health and Medical Research and his colleagues have found that the syndrome may be triggered before birth by excess exposure in the womb to a hormone called anti-Müllerian hormone […] they wondered if this hormonal imbalance in pregnancy might induce the same condition in their daughters”
This is ground-breaking news because the researchers are hoping to be able to “cure” PCOS by using an IVF medication to control women’s hormones.
References: Huffington Post, Independent, Young Women's Health, The PCOS Nurse, PCOS Diet Support, Women's Health Mag, Healthline, PCOS Diet Support, PCOS.com, The PCOS Nutritionist, Healthline, The PCOS Nutrionist, PCOS Diva, and New Scientist.