One in five women in the UK suffer with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), meaning thousands of women in Lincolnshire alone are affected. Despite this, so many are still left feeling embarrassed and ashamed as a result of some of their symptoms. So, if it is so common, why is there still a stigma around the condition?
PCOS affects how ovaries work. Polycystic ovaries are enlarged ovaries that contain numerous fluid-filled sacs that surround eggs.
If a woman has PCOS, these eggs might not be released. Ovulation may become irregular or it may halt altogether, causing the sufferer a great deal of pain and an increase of hormone levels in the body.
Despite the name, PCOS does not always mean there are cysts on the ovaries.
Most women are diagnosed in their late teens or early 20s.
The symptoms of PCOS vary greatly from person to person, but common ones include irregular periods, oily skin or acne, and excess hair growth on the face, stomach, chest or back (known as hirsutism).
There is no known cause of PCOS; however, there are signs that it runs in families and is related to abnormal hormone levels, including high levels of insulin.
Women who have the condition may also be susceptible to developing type two diabetes and high cholesterol levels in later life.
There is no cure for the condition, but there are various treatments that can help sufferers manage their symptoms.
It is often the excess hair growth that causes many women embarrassment. In September 2016, an Australian PCOS sufferer called Tina-Marie Beznec posted pictures of herself on Facebook shaving her face.
This prompted many responses; most were kind, but some could only be described as ignorant. Given the normality of the condition, it was surprising to see people’s reactions.
Gemma Thompson, 19, who lives Lincoln, was diagnosed with PCOS when she was only 13.
She said: “I started menstruating when I was 13 and, all of a sudden, my periods stopped and were replaced with agonising pelvic pain.
“Around the same time, I became incredibly spotty and started to see more excess hair growth on my face and other parts of my body.”
Doctors told Gemma she was just going through puberty and that her periods had not settled down yet because she was still so young.
After a year of searing abdominal pain, Gemma went back to the doctors and had a scan of her ovaries.
Her results showed that she had several small cysts.
After being told her cysts were benign, she was put on metformin (a medication largely used to treat type two diabetes).
She said: “I still get self-conscious about the acne and excess hair but largely, everything has calmed down. I still get a little bit of pain at my time of the month, but it’s mostly disappeared.
“My advice would be to go to your GP no matter what your age. If it persists keep on going to the doctors. It took a lot of persistence on my part to get treated but I’m just glad that I can now live a more normal, pain-free life.”
Megan Taylor is a second year student studying journalism at the University of Lincoln. She has a keen interest in print and online journalism. She feels passionately about engaging local people in discussions about issues that affect them and to make it easy for people to access important information as quickly as possible.