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Breaking the silence: empowering Michigan State Women with PCOS

Terriyanna Gregory

The hormonal syndrome, which is challenging to diagnose, affects college-aged women. It can also come with stigma, leading some women to face their medical issues in silence.

Imagine waking up each day to a body that feels like a puzzle with missing pieces—a labyrinth of hormonal chaos where every step forward seems to lead to two steps back. This is the reality for millions of women worldwide battling polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).

PCOS is an endocrine disorder that affects the hormonal balance in a woman's body. It causes a wide range of symptoms, including irregular menstrual cycles, reproductive difficulties, and metabolic complications. Women with PCOS often experience hirsutism, acne, and other dermatological issues as well. The presence of cysts on the ovaries is a hallmark of this condition.

According to the World Health Organization, PCOS affects 8-13% of women of reproductive age worldwide, with up to 70% of cases going undiagnosed and various symptoms that can differ from person to person. This issue extends to the MSU community, as women make up 51.7% of undergraduate enrollment as of 2022.

Michigan State Psychology senior Darielle Kontcho spoke about her journey with PCOS. She said that she had been misinformed by doctors about her diagnosis and went years without knowing she had PCOS. She had experienced fainting, a decrease in hemoglobin and heart palpitations, which may have been linked to the disorder.

“I was already not seeing a normal period and was kind of already experiencing the spurt of facial hair. It was all a little scary,” Kontcho said. “I went to an OB-GYN in East Lansing. And she’s just like, yeah, you have PCOS symptoms.”

There is no definitive diagnostic test available, and PCOS can manifest at any time during a woman's reproductive years. Doctors rely on a combination of clinical presentation, medical history, and exclusion of other conditions to diagnose it, which can sometimes lead to delayed diagnosis or misdiagnosis, leaving many women struggling with unexplained symptoms and unanswered questions about their health.

Women with PCOS are at increased risk of developing various health complications, including type-2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, hypertension, sleep apnea, endometrial cancer, and mood disorders such as depression and anxiety. Along with that, PCOS is also a common cause of infertility due to irregular ovulation or lack of ovulation, so many women with PCOS struggle to conceive naturally and turn to medical assistance, such as fertility treatments, to achieve pregnancy.

A multifaceted approach is required to manage PCOS symptoms. A healthy diet, regular exercise, stress management techniques, medication, regular medical check-ups, and lifestyle changes such as quitting smoking, limiting alcohol intake, and getting enough sleep can help alleviate symptoms. Seeking support from support groups, counseling, friends, and family is also essential.

“I got into yoga, I got into pilates, that’s really when I saw my body change,” said Kontcho. “ I believe in God, so a lot of prayer has really helped me. But besides praying, I feel like God has also given us free will and the ability to do things in our physical environments to help with our health.”.

PCOS management involves recognizing symptoms and causes, implementing effective strategies, and advocating for support. Lifestyle changes, medication, and emotional support play crucial roles in managing PCOS.

“For a long time, I felt very hopeless. It really affected my mental health, it affected my self-image, it affected my sense of self,” Kontcho said. “ Don’t give up on yourself, even though the doctors will close the door in your face and try to gaslight you and try to tell you to just lose weight, keep trying.

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