Lauren Zielinski is a Certified Nurse-Midwife, and the founder of a grassroots women’s health movement called New Moon Rising Events. New Moon Rising works in cities across the US to hold free, day-long workshops that foster discussion about reproductive health, political advocacy, natural medicine options, and community connections.
Chances are you’ve probably heard of at least one – if not both – of these fairly common female reproductive health disorders. Maybe one of your co-workers, sisters, or a friend of a friend has dealt with crippling cramps, long term infertility, or a slew of laparoscopic diagnostic procedures. It can all sound just a tad bit confusing if you’re not a medical professional. How do I know if I actually have this? Will it impact me long term? Should I be worried about any of this? Questions like this are not uncommon! Nor is feeling like every time you read about a health problem convincing yourself you have it (it’s not just you, don’t worry)!
The upside? Knowledge is power and you’re living in a medical era where it is 100% okay to ask questions – participate in your own care – and take an active role in your health – so read on to educate yourself on these two conditions. If you’re concerned you may have either PCOS or Endometriosis, it’s important to seek treatment from a women’s health care provider to increase your chances of fertility and healthy reproductive organs in the future. On the flip side – many women have these disorders and have no symptoms whatsoever — so per usual – it’s hard to predict how each individual’s body will react, but it’s never a bad idea to get yourself a reproductive parts check-up!
PCOS — What is it?
PCOS (Polycystic Ovary Syndrome) is the most common cause of ovarian dysfunction that causes infertility (meaning the most common cause your ovaries and eggs don’t work the way they need to in order to become pregnant). PCOS is less of one specific disease – but more accurately, currently recognized as a constellation of certain endocrine disruptions that together often times result in infertility. Women with PCOS typically present with higher levels of male hormones that may cause irregular or a complete lack of periods, causing infertility, persistent acne, and abnormal hair growth patterns in women.
PCOS — Common Symptoms
- Irregular periods or rarely having a period
- Abnormal hair growth for a female such as lip hair, stomach hair, neck or facial hair.
- Conversely some women experience male balding patterns
- Infertility due to not ovulating
- Tendency to being overweight or obese
- Insulin resistance with signs of diabetes (a dark brown velvety colored line on the skin on the back of your neck)
High blood levels of testosterone may be discovered during blood work
- On ultrasound one or both ovaries are enlarged with many immature eggs present
- Some women are also completely asymptomatic
PCOS — Current Popular Treatments
- Diet and exercise is huge for helping treat this endocrine imbalance and is shown to increase rates of fertility.
Starting a birth control pill can help to regulate periods and control excess hormones.
- If a woman is unable to start birth control pills for health or personal reasons – a provider can prescribe progestin pills to cause the woman to have periods. Or an IUD to stop the uterine lining from building up to begin with. This uterine lining control is important because a lining that never sheds can increase a woman’s risk for infertility and endometrial cancer.
- Other anti-andronergic drugs (anti male hormone drugs) can be used to help control excess hair and acne as well.
- Lastly, any woman with PCOS should be carefully examined and tested for diabetes, heart disease and thyroid disease as these metabolic conditions often time present in conjunction with PCOS.
photo from architectural digest
Endometriosis — What is it?
The exact cause of endometriosis remains elusive. Current medical opinion believes that it may occur when endometrial glands (glands that bleed during your period that normally live inside your uterus) retrograde during menstruation and make their way out of your uterus via your fallopian tubes. These glands then settle into your abdomen, perhaps along your ovaries or less commonly along your bladder or intestines. During menstruation, these glands in your abdomen bleed and excrete endometrial tissue causing severe pain and cramps, inflammation, and potentially scarring in the abdominal cavity.
Endometriosis — Common Symptoms
- Pelvic Pain (usually bad cramps) sometimes 1-2 weeks before and/or in addition to during your period
- Pain after or during sex
- Pain with urinating, constipation, diarrhea, post-sex bleeding, and chronic fatigue are less common but possible effects of Endo as well.
- Some women are also completely asymptomatic.
Endometriosis — Current Popular Treatments
Treatment for endometriosis depends on the severity of the condition:
- Surgical removal of the tissues and glands outside of the uterus in the pelvis combined with medication to suppress periods (such as hormonal birth control or implanted devices (IUDs etc. that stop periods) may be used to stop it from returning.
- Advil / Ibuprofen for pain relief can be helpful
- Auricular Acupuncture (acupuncture in your ear) has also been shown to assist with pain control
- Sometimes as a last resort, complete hysterectomy and oophorectomy (removal of the uterus and ovaries via surgery) is recommended – this is always depending on the woman’s desire for childbearing in the future, degree of pain, level of current fertility, and impact of the disease on the individuals quality of life.