Do you feel sluggish? Still getting acne flare-ups way after they should be over and done with? Growing hair where hair has no right to be growing? And, um … how’s your sex life? It could be PCOS.
I have PCOS: Polycystic ovary syndrome. Basically, my ovaries look like Swiss cheese (My OBGYN helpfully referred to it as “Swiss cheese syndrome.” She may or may not have been joking.) They’re massively enlarged and filled with follicles containing unfertilized eggs that never ruptured during ovulation, and then turned into cysts.
Not all PCOS sufferers will actually have polycystic ovaries (yes, that is kind of confusing), but they do tend to share a set of criteria that normally includes ovarian cysts, because PCOS is a female endocrine disorder. That means it's caused by hormones. And let me tell you, hormones can really mess up your day.
Female Biology 101
Here's a quick lesson in female biology. Our ovaries are supposed to produce:
- Estrogen (the female hormone)
- Testosterone (the male hormone), and
- Progesterone (the pregnancy hormone)
For those who suffer from PCOS, estrogen may be produced in low to normal amounts, while testosterone is produced in excessive amounts. Progesterone, which is normally produced during ovulation, is not produced at all. It's the imbalance in the ratio of estrogen to testosterone that produces many of the symptoms of PCOS.
Doctors aren't sure why some women develop PCOS. For some, it may run in the family. Weight gain can set it off too. And sometimes, there's just no clear reason for why someone suffers from PCOS. But it is fairly common, affecting up to 15 percent of the female population. Of course, the one side-effect few doctors mention is that it can kill your sex drive.
I’ve been lucky to have been spared from some of the common symptoms of PCOS, such as hirsutism and acne, but I spent years in agony not understanding what was happening to my own body - and my sex life.