In the UK alone it has been estimated that 1 in 10 pepople are currently living with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (Commonly know as PCOS) and Endometriosis. Even though these chronic illnesses are common, there is still a lot of misinformation and stigma surrounding the symptons and causes.
There is often disredgarded of the condition not being considered as a serious health issue, one main reason being is the lack of awareness among GPs; leaving people being misdiagnosed for years, as well as feeling isolated and disconnected from their bodies.
In the blog, i will be shinning a light on these conditions that are barely discussed and their symptons and treatment opitions that are available.
What is PCOS?
It’s a common condition that is caused by an inbalance of hormones including insulin and excess androgen (referred to as ‘male’ hormones); these are present in all identities and vital for everyone’s normal reproductive functions.
When these hormones are inbalanced it can affect how a person’s ovaries function, disruptin ovulation and the mestrual cycle. Someone without PCOS, the ovaries make and release an egg as part of a healthy menstrual cycle. Someone with PCOS, high levels insulin cause the ovaries to produce too much testosterone, this interferes with the development of the follicles (this is the sac in the ovaries where the eggs develop) and prevents ovulation from taking place as it should.
The NHS state that more than half of the people affected by PCOS don’t experience any symptons, but if they do, these usually become apparent during late teens/early 20s. The symptons can include:
- Exessive facial and body hair; due to excess androgen
- Thinning hair loss on the scalp
- Skin conditions; oily skin or acne
- Unexplained weight gain
- Darkening of the skin particularly around the neck, groin and under the breasts
What cause PCOS?
It’s unknown what causes PCOS, however it is thought to be passed down genetically in families.
Treatments & Diagnosis
PCOS symptons can vary from person to person and it can go undetected for a long time, as it can be hard to diagnose especaily if there are no symptons at all.
A diagnosis is normally base on symptons (most often irregular or infrequent periods) blood tests and scans. Once diagnosed, you may get treatment from your GP or referred to a specialised gynaecologist or endocrinologis, where you can discuss how to best manage you symptoms, recommended lifestyle changes, as well as any necessery medication that might be right for you.
Whilst there is no cure for PCOS, it can still be kept in check with symptom-based treatment. Quite often, it’s treated with birth control pills; this is because they contain hormones which can address some of the most common symptoms, but like any illnes everyone course of treatment won’t be the same and will also depend on their individual health risks too.
For many people suffering PCOS can manage their symptoms without medical intervention through regular exercise and maintaining a health lifestyle.
What is Endometriosis?
Endometriosis is a chronic and quit often a debiliating condition where the cells similar to those in the lining of the womb grow outside of the uterus, such as the ovaries and the fallopian tubes.
These cell react to the menstrual cycle in the same way as those inside the womb, shedding and breakig down each month, but unforuntately there is no where for this blood to leave the body which can cause inflammation, pain and the formation of scare tissue.
Similar to PCOS, the symptons of endo (endometriosis) can vary from person to person. Some people experience mild symptons, where others may experience moderate or severe symptoms.
The NHS say, the main symptoms include;
- Pelvic or lower back pain
- Severe period pain
- Pain when passing urine
- Discomfort with bowel movements
- Pain during or after sex
- Heavy periods
- Bloating- know as ‘Endo’ belly
- Difficulty getting pregnant
- Constipation, diarrhoea, nausea or blood in your urine
What cause Endo?
Similar to PCOS, the cause of Endo is still unknown, but theories do exist. One of the main ones is ‘retrograde menstruation’ where the blood flows up the fallopian tubes and embeds itself in the pelvis instead of leaving the body as a period.
Treatment & Diagnosis
Getting a diagnosis can be a very lenghty process (on average it takes can take upto 7.5 years), due to symptoms begin similar to other common condition.
The tests that are carried out for physical signs of endo included; a pelvic exam, ultrasound/MRI. Also in some cases, your doctor may refer you for a laparoscopy – this is an operation whre a camera is inserted into the pelvis via a small incision near the navel. If there a sign of endometriosis then they can diagnose the condition and can take a biopsy of the tissue for further testing. This procedure is the most definitive way of diagnosing endo.
Also during the operation, the surgon can perform an excision sugery to treat endo as part of the same diagonsis procedure which can relieve pelvic pain.
As of now, there is no cure for endometriosis. However, sympton-based treatment can be given to ease the severity of the pain, slow down the growth of the endometriosi tissue and improve the quality of life for the person living with the condition.
When your discussing treatment with you GP, there are thing to consider including; your age, severity of your symptons, whether you’re planing to start a family and how you feel about sugery.
For mild cases, the treatment plan usually consists of pain relief, hormone medicines and contraceptive or sugery. Your doctor might also suggest hormone therapy in combination with pain relief if you’re not trying to conceive.
A hormone-based treatment plan can include the combined contraceptive pill, patches and vaginal rings to help control the hormone responsible for the growth of endometrial tissue each month. Another form of contraception which can inhibit ovulation and growth of the tissue, is a contraceptive implant, contraceptive injection and intrauterine (IUD); these may help relieve some of the symptons.
If you’re trying to conceive, your doctor might prescribe you gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) – this causes the body from making the hormones responsible for ovulation , lower oestrogen and prevent menstruation. This artifcial menopause causes the endometrial tissue to shrink. Once you stop taking the medicine, your mestrual cycle will return, but you have a better chance of conceiving. PCOS and Endo both need more awareness and funding so that those who are affected with these conditions are able to receive the appropriate help, support and treatment.
Your health condition is real and chronic pain deserves vaildation. It’s not in your head, painful, debilitating periods are not normal.