(In a recent Instagram post, actress Shruti Haasan opened up about her battle with PCOS and endometriosis and the havoc its wrecked on her health. FIT is bringing this story out of our archives to bring forth the stories of these women who share their own struggles with the condition.)
19-year-old Tavishi was taken aback when she was diagnosed with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) after a series of routine medical tests. Tavishi’s periods had never been irregular or painful, which was in absolute contrast to what we would all assume to be the primary symptom of the syndrome.
This, for her, was the start of her PCOS journey. When she realized PCOS was affecting her insulin more than anything else, it became clear to her how misunderstood the syndrome really is.
What Is PCOS?
Dr Munjaal Kapadia, Gynecologist at Namaha Hospital, explains, “PCOS is a syndrome, with many many things happening together. Not just with the ovaries, but also with the sugar levels in the body, with the cardiovascular problems, with obesity, skin changes, hair changes and more.”
Shreya Kohli, who was diagnosed with PCOS a year ago, felt the need to get tested when she experienced some of these symptoms. “I started gaining weight again, and it felt that there is this natural tendency in me to put on more weight around my abdominal area. Along with that, there was so much of fatigue and so much of drowsiness that crept in. I also experienced a lot of hair fall and dark patches of skin. This is something I'd never experienced before. So I knew it was time to take medical help. When I did that, got my test done, I realised I've got insulin resistance, PCOS.”
Speaking of the causes, he says, Why it occurs is again relatively unknown. But a core problem is chronic anovulation. most women routinely would make one egg a month. If that egg gets fertilised, you get pregnant. If not, you get your period in approximately two weeks or so. When somebody has PCO, they lose this ability to make and release regular eggs into the system.”
“This triggers out a series of events which causes hormonal imbalances such as insulin resistance, increased male hormones and a disturbance in the rhythm of the oestrogen and progesterone.”Dr Munjaal Kapadia, Gynecologist
Insulin Resistance and PCOS: A Poorly Known Link
For both Shreya and Tavishi, insulin resistance became one of the more severe challenges associated with PCOS. But how are the two related?
Dr Munjaal explains, “For somebody who has insulin resistance, their pancreas would need to produce much more levels of insulin to burn off a certain amount of sugar. Women with PCOS may not be strictly diabetic, as their fasting or postprandial tests would reveal. But that is at the expense of having very high natural insulin in the body. This insulin itself is an anabolic hormone. So, it makes you again put on weight, causes a lot of pigmentation, especially behind the or in between thighs. ”
“Insulin is one aspect. This can increases the lipids in your body, making you more prone to developing cardiac disease. Many girls who have insulin resistance may end up developing actual type 2 diabetes by the time they are in their 40’s or early 40’s. So, all of these things need to be taken care of.”Dr Munjaal Kapadia, Gynecologist
Anxiety, Fatigue, Body Image Issues How PCOS Affects Mental Health
A syndrome that shows itself in the way you look and feel, may also eventually trigger mental health issues.
Shreya tells me, “There was a time where I used to put black chart papers on the mirror because I didn't like what I saw.” Today, she feels she was very hard on herself. But could a young, vulnerable teenager be held responsible for her emotions living in a society with its own unattainable ideals of beauty?
“I have always been someone who’s been very chubby as a child. But I still remember, when I was in class nine and I was diagnosed with PCOD, I suddenly felt that overnight I am not chubby or cute anymore. I am this fat girl who needs to lose a lot of weight, who doesn’t look good. That’s not something that a child should really experience.”Shreya Kohli
For Tavishi, PCOS has added to her health anxiety and mood swings. Anxiety, in turn, leads to chronic pain. “You wake up feeling tired every single day”, she says.
PCOS Treatment and Management
Dr Kapadia explains that treating polycystic ovaries is not as simple as treating one particular disease. There are certainly drugs available for it, depending on the particular symptoms and issues being faced by an individual. But medicines are not enough and lifestyle modifications like diet and exercise, play an equal role.
There is no universal polycystic ovarian diet. But there are some things that could help, he adds. “Increasing a lot of fruits, seeds, nuts, whole grains, fibre in your diet, and cutting off processed food, reducing carbohydrates or high glycemic food intake, along with exercise, would be beneficial.”
From Tavishi, eliminating carbohydrates from her diet helped. For Shreya, maintaining the right balance between her physical health and work made a lot of difference to how she felt, “When I inculcated exercise in my daily routine, I actually saw a lot of difference in how I felt and in my recovery to insulin resistance and PCOS.”