In the past few weeks I’ve learned a lot of new things about how my body is working – or not working, actually. I’ve read so much information that my poor brain is in information overload these days.
Irregular menstrual periods - no menstrual period, infrequent menses, and/or irregular bleeding. Any type of irregularity could be a symptom of PCOS.
Oligo or anovulation (infrequent or absent ovulation) — While women with PCOS produce follicles — which are fluid-filled sacs on the ovary that contain an egg — the follicles often do not mature and release as needed for ovulation. It is these immature follicles that create the cysts.
Hyperandrogenism — Increased serum levels of male hormones. Specifically, testosterone, androstenedione, and dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate (DHEAS).
Infertility – often the result of anovulation.
Cystic ovaries — Classic PCOS ovaries have a "string of pearls" or "pearl necklace" appearance with many cysts (fluid-filled sacs).
Enlarged ovaries — Polycystic ovaries are usually 1.5 to 3 times larger than normal.
Chronic pelvic pain — The exact cause of this pain isn't known, but it may be due to enlarged ovaries leading to pelvic crowding.
Obesity or weight gain or the inability to lose weight — Commonly a woman with PCOS will have what is called an apple figure where excess weight is concentrated heavily in the abdomen.
Insulin resistance, hyperinsulinemia, and diabetes — Insulin resistance is a condition where the body's use of insulin is inefficient.
Elevated LDL and reduced HDL cholesterol levels, as well as high triglycerides.
High blood pressure
Hirsutism (excess hair) — Excess hair growth such as on the face, chest, abdomen, thumbs, or toes.
Alopecia - male-pattern baldness or thinning hair
Acne/Oily Skin/Seborrhea — Oil production is stimulated by overproduction of androgens.
Seborrhea is dandruff — flaking skin on the scalp caused by excess oil.
Acanthosis nigricans (dark patches of skin, tan to dark brown/black) — Most commonly on the back of the neck, but also but also in skin creases under arms, breasts, and between thighs, occasionally on the hands, elbows and knees. The darkened skin is usually velvety or rough to the touch.
Acrochordons (skin tags) — Tiny flaps (tags) of skin that usually cause no symptoms unless irritated by rubbing.Prolonged periods of PMS-like symptoms - bloating, mood swings, pelvic pain, backaches
Because the weight gain and inability to lose weight symptoms noted above are of the greatest importance to me, I’ve concentrated on researching how insulin and insulin resistance plays a role in obesity. It is not clear which came first – PCOS or Insulin Resistance – or which syndrome causes the other. However, as PCOS symptoms worsen, insulin resistance also gets worse, which then causes additional weight gain, and with additional weight gain the symptoms of PCOS get worse again … and the circle continues. So getting just one part of that circle under control will help to stop the cycle.
The body’s capacity to store glycogen is limited and can be depleted quickly (10-12 hours). The average person can store approximately 300-400 grams of carbs (once converted to energy) in your muscles and about another 75-100 grams in the liver. (For comparison, 100 grams of carbs is equivalent to about 2 cups of cooked pasta.) When both the liver and muscles are glycogen full, excess carbohydrates are stored in adipose tissue or body fat.
What is Insulin Resistance?
I lost 24 pounds in the first 4 months, then not another single pound for 6 months after that. No matter what I tried (diet change, workout change) I couldn’t lose any more weight. I continued eating right and exercising during that 6 month plateau. But eventually I got weak, frustrated and discouraged. Over the last 4 months, I gradually cut back on my workouts – from 6 days of intense workouts to 1-3 days a week of moderate exercise. I saw the weight creep back on slowly but I just didn’t have the heart to go back to the intense workouts that were doing nothing for my weight loss. I also talked to my doctor about what I could do to make things work better. Instead of any real help, my doctor (fully aware of my PCOS) simply “patted me on the head” (metaphorically, of course) and told me to use more willpower I’d lose the weight. At that time I didn’t know about the connection between PCOS and weight --- is it right to assume he didn’t either? He’s my doctor; I should feel like I can trust him when it comes to my health. Unfortunately, I no longer have that trust.