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PCOS is the acronym for Poly Cystic Ovarian Syndrome. PCOS is a condition in which women have irregular and/or long menstrual periods. It is the result of having too much testosterone and often these women have characteristics that make the condition easy to diagnose. Symptoms include hair loss, pelvic pain, tiredness, acne, infertility, too much hair in the wrong locations (like your face), and an inability to lose weight.

Approximately 50 percent of patients present with more than one of these symptoms. However, 50 percent of women can have PCOS and not know it because they have subtle symptoms, like heavy painful periods; joint pain; tiredness, and an inability to lose weight when trying. Unfortunately, they don’t link these symptoms to potential hormone changes. Instead, these women often accept these symptoms as normal. They are not normal!

Upwards of 20 percent of women in North America suffer from PCOS. PCOS can lead to diabetes, increases heart risks, obesity, anxiety, and depression. Women with PCOS may go underdiagnosed and untreated for many years. In one of the largest PCOS studies in North America, one-third of women with PCOS reported that it took more than two years and three healthcare providers to get a diagnosis. Another finding revealed that many women aren’t satisfied with the information they are given about their diagnosis.

I see several women in my practice who didn’t even know they had PCOS. But, once diagnosed, those women feel much better. In fact, they often say to me, “I never knew what it was to feel normal. I feel so much better now that I know, and I’m treated.” I treat women who have PCOS with a variety of medications. One is used to block the effects of increased testosterone on skin and hair. After using it for 3-6 months, women report improved skin appearance (decreased or no acne) and improved hair condition (less loss of hair which is less oily). Another medication stabilizes blood sugar levels which calms food cravings. It can help with weight loss efforts for patients living with PCOS.

Often in primary care women are told that their thyroid is fine, only to come to my practice to be diagnosed with subclinical hypothyroidism. In primary care, providers only test TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone), however, being in the normal range doesn’t always mean that their thyroid is fine. Women can have lower levels. I can’t tell you the number of patients I have seen in my practice that have suffered with low energy and an inability to lose weight only to find out that there was a problem with their thyroid. Once their thyroid is optimized with medication, they have more energy and no longer struggle to lose weight.

Untreated and undertreated PCOS is a big problem! When left undertreated, it puts women at risk for endometrial cancer, ovarian and breast cancer, fatty liver, sleep apnea, high blood pressure, and heart disease. We need to improve our knowledge of PCOS and be more aggressive in our treatments. If you have more than one symptom of PCOS but haven’t been diagnosed, it is time to reach out for an assessment and treatment.

In my time here on the Island, I have noticed many women who appear to have signs and symptoms of PCOS. I have family members who also have PCOS. It can cause significant anxiety, depression, and weight issues. There is no cure for PCOS, but we can treat the symptoms and prevent the chronic disease consequences of this condition.

Tammy O’Rourke is a Nurse Practitioner with a Ph.D. in Nursing. She spent the first 20 years of her career in primary care. About seven years ago she started having symptoms of several hormonal imbalances, for which her doctor prescribed medications to address anxiety, depression, and sleep issues. These medications left her feeling numb, more tired, and angry at a system that wasn’t addressing the root cause. Tammy was in perimenopause, that 8–10-year period before menopause that leaves women feeling tired, out of control, moody, lacking in self-confidence, and unwell.

She made the move to invest in her health and discovered bio-identical hormone replacement therapy, which helped significantly with her symptoms. So much so that she decided to learn more about hormones. She became certified in the United States through World Link Medical and she has been helping men and women with their hormone problems for more than four years. Tammy is passionate about her hormone practice and continues to help women and men across the country.

She recently relocated to Cape Breton Island with her husband, who grew up in Whitney Pier.

Photo by Artem Kovalev on Unsplash

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