It’s technically been a viable diagnosis since 1935, but polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) wasn’t really part of our medical vocabulary until just a few decades ago — and, sadly, for years and years, many doctors thought patients were imagining their excruciating symptoms. But not only is the illness very real, it’s actually very common, and comes with potentially devastating consequences.
PCOS the one of the most common hormonal issues in women of reproductive age, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), affecting an estimated 8 to 13 percent worldwide with up to 70 percent of cases going undiagnosed. The syndrome is characterized by cysts that grow on the ovaries (hence the name) and excess testosterone. This prevents the ovaries from releasing eggs and causes symptoms like male-pattern baldness, acne, and excess facial hair. Other symptoms include insulin resistance, weight gain (and difficulty losing weight), infertility, and disruption of the menstrual cycle.
Ironically, the things that can most ease PCOS symptoms — a nutritious diet, regular exercise, and moderate weight loss — are the exact things that the illness makes so difficult, trapping many people in what feels like one of nature’s cruelest catch-22s. One thing that might help? Knowing you’re not alone. Celebrities with PCOS have started to share their own experiences, and a few years ago, the app Whisper polled users about their PCOS “secrets.” Here are a few of those anonymous confessions of people who live with PCOS every day.
1. Body confidence can be hard to come by
“I have PCOS, which comes with embarrassing body hair. I don’t know if I’ll ever feel comfortable enough to have sex with someone.”
2. You stress about fertility
“I haven’t visited my doctor in 2 years for fear that my condition has worsened and they’ll have to remove my ovaries, leaving me barren forever.”
3. The uncertainty is terrifying
“I’m scared I’ll never be able to have that child or that relationship because I’m not ‘normal.’”
4. It makes you question your femininity
“I’m so tired of having PCOS. It messes with my weight, feelings, makes me unable to have a child and, worst of all, makes me feel like less of a woman.”
5. Talking about pregnancy is so hard
“Every time someone tells me they’re pregnant I get depressed.”
6. It changes your entire life plan
“I found out I have PCOS and have been trying to convince myself that I don’t want kids and a family ever since.”
7. Weight gain is super easy and weight loss is nearly impossible
“I hate being the fat friend. I have PCOS and a hormonal imbalance so when I try to lose weight I can’t lose much. The most I’ve ever lost is 15 pounds.”
9. It makes you hate the very thing you’re trying to protect and love: Your body
“I hate not being able to lose weight. I hate irregular periods. I hate body/facial hair. I want a different body.”
10. It affects your relationships
“I am worried I will disappoint my fiancé if it won’t allow me to get pregnant. I hope he won’t leave me.”
11. You never thought you’d say this but… you miss your period
“A few years ago I wished I didn’t have a period. Now I have PCOS, no period and am trying to conceive. I miss my period.”
12. Where other people flaunt their bodies, you feel like you have to hide yours
“I have hair all over so I hide my body. It makes life hard for a girl.”
13. Periods are even more of an inconvenience
“When I get my period — if ever — it feels like I got hit with a truck.”
Originally posted May 2016. Updated October 2017 and September 2023.
Before you go, read about why these celebs are getting real about their personal health issues:
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