You’re never really the same after your first ruptured ovarian cyst. The sudden onset of searing pain through your abdomen, the nausea, the vomiting, the feeling that there’s a really solid chance that you’re either dying or giving birth to a small, spiky, demon child — that shit changes you, trust me.
Mine was a couple of years ago. I wasn’t feeling all that crash hot in the morning but had an assignment to finish. I’m #blessed with regular, excruciating period pain, so thought the dull ache in my stomach could be an early onset of that.
Plus, I was keen to ignore things and avoid a trip to the emergency room—which, if you’ve been, you’ll know is basically like a five-hour long trip to hell, except in this version I also feel like hot needles are stabbing my abdomen.
Jasmine Garnsworthy, when she's not "giving birth to a small, spiky demon child." Image: supplied.
At some point during the night things became unbearable, and, like millions of women with undiagnosed health issues before me, I tearfully hit up Google for answers, which ranged from appendicitis to food poisoning, and were all accompanied by the phrase, “seek urgent medical care.” So next stop; hospital. Reason; obvious.
The first time I actually heard the phrase “PCOS” mentioned, I’d made it to the hospital—sporting a backless gown and all—and was clutching my stomach with pain, feeling utterly sorry for myself.
“It’s a possibility,” the gynecologist cautioned, explaining that the ruptured ovarian cyst I’d been hospitalised for, coupled with other symptoms I experienced regularly (excruciating period pain and hormonal acne, that’s you!) could mean I had an illness called Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, AKA PCOS, that is strongly linked with infertility and a host of terrifying symptoms.
Watch: Five things you need to know about PCOS. Post continues after this video.
I’ll cut a long story short: I didn’t/don’t/probably will never have PCOS, and it was just a random (but normal and common) ruptured cyst on my right ovary, thank fucking goodness. However, this mildly traumatic experience led me to obsessively research the disease and discover a) it’s incurable and b) Around 12 to 18 per cent of Australian women suffer from it, 70 percent of whom are undiagnosed. Which means either you, or someone you know, probably lives with a serious disorder and doesn’t even have a clue.
So, should you be worried?
Well, for the blissfully uninitiated, PCOS is a hormonal issue that’s accompanied by a cluster of symptoms you might notice, including weight gain, irregular or no periods, acne, hair loss on the head, or excess body hair, and it’s also commonly linked with infertility.
New York-based infertility specialist and reproductive endocrinologist Dr Rashmi Kudesia is a global leader in the treatment of PCOS, and explained that the disorder is usually diagnosed if a woman has two out of the following: “Absent or irregular ovulation, clinical symptoms or bloodwork suggesting high levels of male hormones, and third, polycystic-appearing ovaries.” A doctor might take your medical history, blood tests, and an ultrasound to confirm you have it.
And, despite affecting hundreds and thousands of Australian women, we don’t fully understand what causes it, and there’s no cure. Nada. Zilch. Zero. Instead, women are told to medicate the symptoms and to maintain a healthy lifestyle.
“Treatments revolve around aspects related to reproductive and metabolic health. When a woman with PCOS desires pregnancy, she may need the assistance of medication to help cause ovulation to occur. On the metabolic side, it is critical to keep a close eye on weight gain, and to try to maintain a normal body mass index,” Dr Kudesia explained. Some doctors also recommend the contraceptive pill or medication like spironolactone that can block hormones.
One woman I spoke with who lives with PCOS (and blogs about it here) was diagnosed in January this year. She went off the pill after 10 years to try and fall pregnant, and discovered that the PCOS-like symptoms she suffered as a teenager started coming back. (Post continues after gallery.)
“Even though I had a hunch before the diagnosis, it still felt like I was on an emotional roller coaster when I heard the news,” she told me.
“On one hand I was happy to finally have some answers and a list of things to try. But on the other hand I felt inadequate and extremely sad. The reason I went off of birth control was to try to conceive. I felt like this news just threw a huge wrench in those plans,” she added, explaining that doctors now have her taking a drug called Clomid to try and encourage ovulation.
On the other end of the spectrum are women zeroing in on holistic lifestyle changes to try and mitigate the symptoms of the disease.
Alisa Vitti is one such lady, and claims she cured her PCOS by overhauling her diet.
“My doctor gave me a pretty grim prognosis: Increased predisposition for obesity, diabetes, infertility, heart disease and cancer and an unacceptable treatment plan of medication for each of those conditions as they presented themselves over the course of my life. None of the medications actually fixed what was wrong with me and I wanted to heal the root cause of my hormonal imbalance so I could change my future health for the better.”
Alisa Vitti went for a more holistic treatment approach. Image: supplied.
Instead, she started obsessively researching her condition and decided to change the way she eats to support her hormonal disorder, choosing specific foods at certain times of her cycle (like upping her intake of raw vegetables during ovulation to help process estrogen) and switching to an organic diet.
“I dropped 60 pounds, cleared up my acne, and restored my monthly cycle, all without medication,” Vitti told me. Oh, and 15 years later she was also able to conceive her first child naturally, something she was told she’d never be able to do.
Today she runs a successful online program for women with hormone issues, is a regular on “The Dr Oz Show,” and works with the likes of CBS, Fox, Yahoo Health, and The Huffington Post.
If you are concerned that you might have PCOS, stop Googling your symptoms (be honest, that’s how you found this article, isn’t it?) and just head to your gynecologist. The disorder might not be curable, but there are still treatment options worth exploring that could make life a heck of a lot easier.
Do you know someone who suffers from PCOS?