I spent most of Valentine’s Day 2004 in the emergency room. I was screaming when I arrived in the ambulance, and that was a first. I don’t tolerate noise well and I don’t make loud noises! I couldn’t help it, though. I was in some of the worst pain of my life because an ovarian cyst had burst. The doctors couldn’t really do anything but pump me full of painkillers and put me through lots of tests to rule out other possibilities.
Shortly afterward, I learned that I could have bled to death had that cyst been right at a blood vessel. I’d never been warned of that, and had fallen into thinking that it didn’t really matter that I wasn’t under treatment for PCOS anymore. Obviously, I was wrong.
Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS), is more a collection of problems with a common root than a single illness. The symptoms can, in fact, be so diverse that many physicians do not tie them together to see the overall picture. The main symptom is that women with PCOS do not ovulate normally, but form ovarian cysts that can lead to other problems. They usually suffer from amenhorrhea (failure to menstruate) or dysmenorrhea (irregular or painful menstruation), infertility, and in some cases dyspareunia (pain during sex). The hormonal imbalance involved can lead to weight gain, hirsutism, acne, and other problems. There is a very high incidence of depression in PCOS sufferers, as well. In some cases, women who gain a lot of weight may develop PCOS as a result of their weight gain. In most, though, it seems that the imbalance causes weight gain. In my case, I was quite thin when the PCOS started, and after finally getting treatment for it I started losing weight without dieting.
The current thought is that PCOS may be caused by insulin resistance, which can lead to type II diabetes. Thus, treatment with metformin is sometimes helpful. Doctors have long used birth control pills in an effort to moderate the hormonal imbalance that is an important factor in PCOS. There are actually two kinds of birth control pills, though—those that increase the levels of androgens and those that use estrogen/progesterone. For years I was given androgen pills, which unfortunately increase the level of the hormones that are already too high. Switching to an estrogen/progesterone pill gave far better results.
Women with PCOS have a much higher risk of heart disease, diabetes, and some forms of cancer. Endometriosis, miscarriages, and infertility are more common among women with PCOS than among those with normal hormone levels. It is, therefore, very important for women who think they may have PCOS to seek treatment even if they aren’t worried about having children and are not bothered by the overt symptoms.
Katie is my miracle baby. I was told by several doctors that I would never bear a child without fertility treatments, as I’d never ovulated regularly. About a year after having surgery to remove a great many ovarian cysts, though, I was surprised to find myself pregnant. However, I had five miscarriages when I tried to conceive again later.