I read an article in a magazine that talked about PCOS and I had many of the symptoms that were mentioned in that article. Honestly at the time I just thought I was imagining things and didn’t look into it at all; I pretty much forgot about the article until later on. The many symptoms I had would eventually make me prone to miscarriage and infertility, amongst many other things. After losing a few pregnancies in the early weeks, I was blessed to have the two children that I have now. I was diagnosed with PCOS (which stands for Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome) after I had my first child, because that was when I started to get really sick. It started slowly at first, just a couple of days off of work for the flu here and there. Then other health problems started to come up, and my being sick was starting to look like a trend.
It was hard to diagnose at first, because I kept being directed to doctors who were trained for my symptoms, but not in the cause.
What I didn’t know when I read that article was how new the illness was to the medical world. None of my doctors put all of my symptoms together to discover a single cause. I had seen a cardiologist, urologist, and neurologist, when what I needed to diagnose me was a gynecologist! Fortunately much time has passed since then and people are taking this illness a little more seriously. I myself had to take this illness seriously as soon as I had my children. When I started to see my health decline I was especially worried for them. I fought for my health to be here for them and I had to do my homework to figure out how to keep this illness from impacting my family life in a negative way.
During my research on PCOS I was astonished to find that the 32% of heterosexual women have polycystic ovaries but in lesbian women the occurrence is a whopping 80%!!!(article)
Eighty percent is pretty darn close to one hundred percent in my book! That’s a lot of lesbians with polycystic ovaries!! Are you a lesbian? Do you have polycystic ovaries?? If so, you could also have Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome. The studies show that 14% of the heterosexual women in their study had PCOS, while lesbian women in the study with PCOS were a drastically higher 38%.
Here is what the U.S. Department of Health Women’s Health website has to say about PCOS:
Polycystic ovary syndrome can affect a woman's menstrual cycle, ability to have children, hormones, heart, blood vessels, and appearance. About one in ten women of childbearing age has PCOS. PCOS is the most common cause of female infertility (not being able to get pregnant). The cause of PCOS is unknown. Women with PCOS tend to have a mother or sister with PCOS. Researchers also think insulin could be linked to PCOS. For many women with PCOS, their bodies have problems using insulin so that too much insulin is in the body. Excess insulin appears to increase production of androgen. This hormone is made in fat cells, the ovaries, and the adrenal gland. Levels of androgen that are higher than normal can lead to acne, excessive hair growth, weight gain, and problems with ovulation.Here is a list of common symptoms of Poly Cystic Ovarian Syndrome:
-Irregular or No Periods and/or Irregular Bleeding
- Pelvic Pain and/or Pain during Intercourse
- Infertility and Higher Rates of Miscarriage, Gestational Diabetes, Pre-Eclampsia, and Premature Delivery
- Increased Hair Growth in Unwanted Areas (Hirsutism), Male Pattern Baldness or Thinning Hair (Alopecia)
- Skin Tags and Darkened Patches of Skin
- Acne, Oily Skin, or Dandruff
- Weight Gain and/or The Inability to Lose Weight
If you are a lesbian, you have a high likelihood of developing PCOS!
If you find that you are suffering from some of the above mentioned symptoms, don’t be like me – do something about it now, don’t put it off! Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome can lead to other health problems as well such as High Cholesterol, High Blood Pressure, Thyroid Problems, Insulin Resistance, and/or Type 2 Diabetes. Fifty percent of women with PCOS will develop Type 2 Diabetes which in turn can lead to Cardiovascular Disease, Kidney Failure, Vision Loss, Circulation Problems, and Liver Damage. Plus, women with PCOS are at a higher risk for Endometrial Cancer, Heart Attack, and Stroke… gee, doesn't this all sound so sexy???
If you are facing these symptoms, see your gynecologist ASAP to develop a program for you that will tackle this illness head on.
There is no cure for Polycystic Ovaries, but you can manage your symptoms and reduce the risks for developing more serious illnesses later on. One of the most important goals in treatment should be to have a regular period each month. When you have PCOS, the fundamental problem is that regular ovulation does not occur and most time you can find that there are cysts on your ovaries. These seem to be eggs that were not able to fully leave the ovary like with normal ovulation. This triggers a domino effect because then you don't have your period, your hormones get out of whack, and it triggers symptoms throughout your body which are basically a response to the imbalance of hormones in the body. Not having your period once in a while, say during pregnancy, is okay. But if you are going years with irregular or missing periods, this contributes to the thickening of your vaginal walls - thus the increased risk for Endometrial Cancer. (I know I know - more sexxy talk!)
Seriously my friends, if you (or a woman you know) is facing the possibility of PCOS you have to become aware of this!
This is how they found that there is link between PCOS and lesbians; the study was done between 2001 and 2003.
The findings that 80% of lesbian women in the study suffer from polycystic ovaries raised the question of whether this hormonal imbalance could contribute to our sexuality. I have had people ask me the probing question of why I think I am a lesbian, and I have to say that this is a whole new blog post, my friends! What I will say on this right now though, is that this for sure is an interesting line of questioning to pursue!! What I can contribute to this is that I have 4 sisters with female medical concerns, plus myself as well… and we are all gay. Well, I have one sister who has a husband but he is aware that she is a lover of women as well. (*wink) So yeah… LOL. That’s a fun fact for you that might make you wonder what’s really going on here, just like I do! I mean, why do so many lesbians have cysts on their ovaries, and why are all my mother’s daughters lesbians?? Hmmmm…
In any case, that question will take it’s time to get answered and in that meantime, I am here dealing with the fact that I am a lesbian with PCOS.
Like I mentioned above, there is no cure for this illness. The good news is that you can reduce your symptoms and manage your condition with some simple lifestyle changes. Remember that the main goal is to ovulate regularly, which you will know is happening when you have a regular menstrual cycle. There are a lot of different types of medication that a doctor can prescribe for you when you have PCOS. Some medications are for you to have a period, stop having your period, birth control, fertility pills, and/or diabetes medication. Sometimes you will need minor surgical procedures, alternative medicine treatments, and/or hormonal intervention.
If you do your own research on the internet you will find that PCOS is only the tip of the iceberg – there is also Auto Immune Syndrome, Metabolic Syndrome, and Insulin Resistance to look into as well. PCOS is a hormonal imbalance and hormones act like triggers for many functions in our body. When you have an imbalance of hormones it affects many different areas of your body. Every woman has a unique program they have to follow to achieve their desired results within their given circumstances.
Here are some things that you can do on your own to help manage your symptoms if you do have PCOS:
1. Recognize that you have what is called an “Invisible Illness”. Nobody can see that you are sick from the outside, including yourself. There is a lot going on under the surface that you have to be mindful of. Recognize that you have an illness and make your health a priority! (Read my article titled My Invisible Illness here.)
2. Make great efforts to reduce the amount of stress in your life! Stress reduction is a HUGE factor in balancing the hormones in your body because stress does its own hormonal damage aside from any you might experience as a result of PCOS. Stress + PCOS = Hormonal Havoc. Read more on the impact of stress in women here. (The most stressful period of my life was the years of going through a divorce and coming out as a lesbian – this was also when I had the most visits to the hospital!)
3. Get plenty of rest! Sleep has its own hormonal contribution to your health, so make sure to get enough of it. Changes in the way you sleep, how often and how long you sleep, and what time of day you sleep can disrupt your body’s chemistry so this is something to keep aware of. If I don’t get a good night of sleep, I will feel very sick in the morning. If I get a good night of sleep then I am okay. Part of the reason I started to get sick so often after having my first baby was because that was the end of a good nights sleep! For women with PCOS who have a baby to wake to each night, be sure to take the advice “Sleep when the baby sleeps”!
4. Diet and Exercise are important to everybody’s health, but to women with PCOS even more so. Insulin and sugar levels have a lot to do with how you feel and maintaining a balance is crucial! In all honesty there is no need to add sugar into our food at all, except out of pure love for a sweet taste. Avoiding processed and sugary foods is a smart thing for everybody to do! Women with PCOS have a greater interest in avoiding sugar since the consequences are so severe. We have to take it a step further and avoid any food item (even a natural unprocessed food item) that will raise our glucose levels. Watch out for anything that is high in carbs. I tell you, if I eat a too many potatoes or carrots I will get reeaalllly sleepy. Can anyone say sugar coma?? Focus on complex carbs which have more fiber such as whole-grain products. A simple change from white bread to wheat bread can make a significant difference in your health! Foods made with Splenda instead of sugar are a smarter choice and so is taking a daily multi-vitamin. In addition, exercise helps to lower blood sugar levels and even a small loss in body weight can make a woman's cycle more regular.
5. Reduce the amount of environmental toxins you expose yourself to and drink plenty of water. In our current society we are practicing a lot of habits that man was not naturally intended to. There are so many man-made elements involved in our daily life that it’s easy to overlook the impact that they might have on us long term. The bottom line is that women with PCOS can benefit greatly from reducing their exposure to toxins in foods, the environment, and in the personal products that they use as well. Labeling laws are not in favor of the consumer, so I try to stay away from packaged food items in general, as much as I can. If you live near a store like Whole Foods or Trader Joes, that is a good place to start for more natural food items. I also purchase nature-based home and personal care products from a members only catalog online. I am starting to see products like these available in the stores more as well such as with Seventh Generation and Method brand household products. In addition, drinking plenty of water is a good way to flush some of the toxins from your body and replenish any fluids you may have lost throughout your day.
6. You might also want to look into alternative therapies for your symptoms. Holistic healing methods address illness through the whole body and can help to alleviate many symptoms. Detoxification, such as with detox foot pads, is something I encourage but you should discuss this with your doctor. Other ideas are daily meditation, deep tissue massage, and aromatherapy.
7. Take some time to work on YOU. The emotional side effects of PCOS are real. Dealing with the unattractive side effects of polycystic ovaries does a number on your self esteem and depression is common. Anxiety and the tendency to withdraw socially are common as well. To alleviate this you have to make the time to work on your appearance, talk to someone, have a picnic, go for a road trip, and basically enjoy life! If you can afford it, regular waxing and facials can be a big boost to your self esteem. Dancing is a great way to let off some steam and get in some cardio at the same time as well. Be creative and tap into your passions to find emotional outlets that work for you. Reach out to others and create a network of friends you can count on for support when you need it.
If you are a woman with PCOS, lesbian or straight, be sure to reach out for support and to learn from others who have the same condition.
Some websites where you can reach out to others with PCOS are:
PCOList.org – The Lavender List
Plus you can visit the following websites for more information:
Lesbian Health Info.org
Women to Women
PCOS Info at MayoClinic.com
You can also reach out to me as well... I’ve had my ups and downs with PCOS and can point you in the right direction if you are facing this same condition.
Whether you are a lesbian with PCOS, a straight woman with PCOS, or any woman who is facing infertility, I strongly suggest the lifestyle changes that I mentioned to you above. If you are dealing with an aggressive form of PCOS then you might have to take more drastic measures. I felt a lot of relief of my symptoms after I had a laparoscopy a few years ago, and have managed to avoid medication thus far. Not stressing out when life gets rough is a big factor as well. Like I said, each woman’s situation is unique so confer with your doctor to see what is best for you.
Thank you so much for reading this article on Lesbians and PCOS, and for visiting the Lesbian Mommy blog. I hope that this post has helped some of you, and brought some awareness to those of use who are dealing with PCOS. Take care until the next post and thank you again for reading!
About the Author: Julie Phineas is a work at home mom of 2 who lives in Southern California. You can find out more about her by visiting her website at www.juliephineas.com.