On December 8, 2016, we had the opportunity to reach out to our local Marine Corps community and teach a workshop about Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, or PCOS.
A few months ago, I received an email from the Marine Corps Community Services Exceptional Family Member Program for the Marine Corps Recruitment Depot/Western Recruiting Region here in San Diego, California. They wanted to know if Bloomin’ Uterus could coordinate a PCOS Workshop for their interested enrolled members, which included staff, service members, and/or family of service members. Of course, I jumped at the chance!
I reached out to Dr. Mara Killen, a nurse practitioner at San Diego Women’s Health, my doctor’s office. The staff at San Diego Women’s Health have been so incredibly helpful in my Endometriosis diagnosis, treatment, and journey and I’m so grateful that Dr. Killen agreed to speak at the PCOS presentation.
The Big Night
I arrived on site a few minutes early and caught a beautiful San Diego sunset from the parking lot – a perfect way to end my workday and begin the evening. There were about 11 women in attendance, each of them either suffering from PCOS or knowing someone who does. Dr. Killen’s presentation ran about 30 minutes and the remaining hour was an open-forum Q&A session.
A quick overview of what I learned last night:
What is PCOS
PCOS is an endocrine disorder and not much is known about it. Like Endometriosis, the exact cause is unknown. It effects 5-10% of women who are in the childbearing-age range, and as much as 50% of women with PCOS are undiagnosed. And if you have PCOS, there could be a 50% chance of your daughter developing PCOS…Many women with PCOS also suffer from other conditions, such as Endometriosis or fibroids.
PCOS can drastically effect fertility, because it can cause very irregular periods. Some women with PCOS only have their periods once every 2-3 months. And, unfortunately, there is a higher risk of miscarriage and other pregnancy complications…
Women with PCOS may have a higher risk of developing other conditions in the long-run: endometrial cancer, Diabetes, impaired glucose tolerance, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, ovarian cancer, depression, anxiety, and sleep apnea. This isn’t a dooming realization – but if you do have PCOS, please talk to you doctor about steps you can take to strengthen your chances of not developing these conditions in the future.
Symptoms can include – and are very different for each sufferer – :
- Irregular periods (long, heavy, absent, spaced out too far)
- Fertility issues
- Insulin resistance (which may lead to Diabetes)
- Acne/skin issues
- Increased hair growth
- Weight gain
- Fluid retention
- Darkening of the skin
If you think you may have PCOS, begin having conversations with your doctor. It’s best if you have a running log of your periods ( symptoms, flow, start & end dates) to bring to your doctor to help move the diagnosis process along.
Unfortunately, there’s no single test to diagnose PCOS. And various health organizations agree and disagree on the criteria to reach a PCOS diagnosis. It’s not simply black and white…
A healthcare provider would likely begin with a detailed medical history (including any/all symptoms), followed by a physical examination, blood work, and a pelvic ultrasound. The ultrasound may show an ovary looking a little bit like swiss cheese, or perhaps like it’s wearing a strand of pearls – these are follicles going craaazy. Then again…the ultrasound may appear completely normal. These listed procedures may rule out other conditions, ultimately leading to a potential PCOS diagnosis.
Like Endometriosis, there is no cure. Treatment depends on your health goals and where you ultimately want to be in your life. One way to express it: do you want kids? Or you never want kids? Either way, since there is no cure, treatment is about symptom suppression and making your life easier and healthier while you endure an incurable condition.
If you want children, you may be asked to make some lifestyle changes (diet and exercise), you may go on some medications to help improve fertility, and IVF/IUI is an option.
If you don’t want kids now, your doctor may still advise lifestyle changes (diet aaaand exercise), you may be prescribed birth control pills or some other form of hormonal contraception, or you may be prescribed Metformin. These options act as symptom suppression, and the hopes to regulate your body’s imbalance/disruption.
Alternative therapies that may help reduce symptoms of PCOS include saw palmetto, chasteberry, and acupuncture. One of the gals last night expressed some improvement while trying evening primrose. As always, though, plleeeeaaaassssseee consult with your healthcare provider before beginning any alternative therapy. Herbal supplements may have interactions with medications or even worsen symptoms.
Thursday night really drove home, once again, the need for community support – having a place to voice your concerns, issues, and experiences with women who know precisely what you’re going through – IT IS SO HELPFUL!
Although I have been unable to locate an in-person support group for PCOS sufferers in San Diego, I found Soul Cysters – an online community of PCOS sufferers which includes a blog, shared stories, an online forum, suggestions for books, etc. Hoping it may be useful to some PCOS gals.
Other Useful Links
American Society for Reproductive Medicine
American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists
PCOS Awareness Association
We’ll be hosting an Endometriosis workshop for the Exceptional Family Member Program in February. If you’re an active service member, or know someone who is, and are interested in attending, please reach out to us. We’ll put you in touch with the organization.
If you are an active Marine, or the family member of one, and would like more information on the Exceptional Family Member Program or it’s upcoming events, please contact Christy Howland at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thank you, Christy, Natalie, Elizabeth, and anyone else at the EFMP who played a role in last night’s event, and for creating this opportunity for women to come together over a shared illness. And Dr. Killen: I am so grateful! Thank you for sharing your knowledge with us last night, and bringing PCOS sufferers together.
And to all those who serve our country, thank you -from the bottom of my heart.
Dr. Mara Killen’s 12/8/16 PCOS Powerpoint presentation (please let me know if you’d like a copy)
Marine Corps Exceptional Family Member Program
~ Again, I am a layman. I do not hold any college degrees, nor mastery of knowledge. Please take what I say with a grain of salt. If curious, do your own research Validate my writings. Or challenge them. And ALWAYS feel free to consult with your physician. Always. Yours ~ Lisa