I’ve known I had PCOS for a very long time. Thirteen years, now. I was diagnosed when I was 19. I decided to stop taking the birth control because it made me angry, and I was also had reservations about the long-term impact of synthetic hormones. After nine months and no period, I went to an OBGYN who diagnosed me with PCOS. I promptly jumped back on the birth control band wagon and didn’t look back for five years.
When I was 24 I finished my Master’s degree and relocated from Austin to Denver. My father was terminally ill, and sex and boyfriends weren’t on my radar, so I stopped taking the pill. I will never take birth control for, well, birth control ever again. Can anyone say IUD? Copper, mind you, the copper IUD.
With the transition from graduate student to working professional, I also graduated to a healthier lifestyle. I was more active and I was eating the right foods. Unwittingly, I was even following a pretty good diet for a PCOSer, despite my ignorance. From the age of 24 to 31 I’ve weathered the storm of PCOS, and I have a pretty good idea of how it affects my body. What I take away from all of it is that I’m pretty lucky. The evil PCOS side effects trifecta includes hirsutism, weight, and acne, but I’m only plagued by one.
Hirsutism: Oh, the dreaded hair growth. Bloggers could write for days about hair sprouting in inappropriate places. I’m not one of them. I think my genes are on my side here. My dad was not a hairy man and nor is my brother. I’m blond and fair, and I just don’t have a lot of hair. Period. I do have a pretty large forehead and every once and a while I panic thinking that the testosterone is resulting in male pattern hair loss. I think I may be a bit reactionary on this, but it is a trifle frightening. However, I have no doubts that I will be a bald old lady. No doubt in my mind.
Weight: Looks like I’ve been let off easy here, too. I’ve never been the smallest person in town, and my childhood nickname was Chunk. From the Goonies. (Funny, Big Brother, funny.) But in reality I’m 5’7″ and I currently weigh 140 pounds. I have been heavier, but only by 5-8 pounds, which is about one step up in clothing size. Also, I gain my weight in my hips, not my stomach like many of my compatriots.
Acne: By the title of this post, you have probably surmised that the PCOS side effect that plagues me daily is acne. To be specific, acne on my back. Back + Acne = Backne. I hate the backne. It isn’t just the average pimple, but large cystic sores that are more likely to be filled with blood, as opposed to water or pus. Ew. Gross. I know. They last for weeks, if not months, and they inevitably leave scars. I didn’t have backne until I stopped taking birth control in my 20′s, and then it reared its ugly, ugly head. All puns are intentional here. I suppose that genetics are not on my side in this situation. Both my brother and my sister had terrible backne when they were teenagers. In order to get rid of it they both took high doses of accutane. In case your wondering, my sister is incredibly fertile with normal ovaries.
I’ve tried a myriad of methods to curtail the backne because it’s gross, and I hate it. These included topical solutions as well as naturopathic solutions. The only method that has been effective, thus far, is the drug spironolactone. Spironolactone is a diuretic that acts upon the liver. It also is known to suppress androgens. Spironolactone is the reason I was able to wear a beautiful strapless dress for my wedding without applying makeup to my back. I started the medicine as soon as we were engaged in order to clear things up.
Spironolactone is not safe to take while trying to conceive. If you were to conceive a baby boy it would affect the development of his testes, it also results in endocrine problems for fetuses of both genders. So, over the past 18 months I’ve just dealt with the backne. Like I said earlier, it is impervious to topical solutions, both medicated and naturopathic, as well as internally ingested herbs and such. It has not improved with the metformin or my more stringent PCOS diet despite the reduced levels of testosterone and my regular cycle.
That was until the past couple of weeks. Ladies, there is progress. You know how they say the best thing for PCOS is diet and excercise? Well, I’ve had the diet under control for years, but while working on my dissertation I ignored the whole excercising bit. I’ve been excercising three to six times a week including yoga, pilates, running and weight lifting, without fail, since miscarriage #1 in March, and my backne is getting better. It feels like nothing short of a miracle.
What I’m really excited about is that this may also be a measure of improvements in the ovarian environment resulting in happier eggs. Maybe if I have happier eggs I can stop miscarrying and have a baby, already. For this reason, I will not, under any circumstances, stop this workout regimen. I’m in it to win it.