A few years ago, when I was 21 years old, my period stopped coming. After having some pregnancy tests done and getting absolute confidence that I wasn’t expecting *big phew here as I had a boyfriend at the time but we were nowhere near the building a family stage* I went to see my GP who sent me to a gynaecologist to have my ovaries and other sexual organs checked. After some scans and blood tests the diagnosis was polycystic ovarian syndrome (also known as PCOS).
For those unfamiliar with PCOS, this chronic disease affects one in 10 females. As with all syndromes, there is a number of symptoms that manifest such as hormonal imbalance, cysts in the ovaries, infertility, weight gain, facial hair and a big long etc. Women affected by this syndrome do not have to show all the signs, but most of them will have disrupted hormones and the cysts.
I have polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), so now what?
Unfortunately, the doctors that diagnosed me didn’t explain anything about this syndrome or how it would impact my life going forward. They just advised to get on a prescription birth control pill as it would regulate my hormones and ensure that my period would come every month. At the time I didn’t know a lot about hormones or secondary effects so I just trusted my doctors and started to take the tablets every day.
For a while I forgot about PCOS and focused in life, university, internships. I thought that as long as I was taking the pill, I would be safe. I got varicose veins in my legs, but I was told they were caused because I was standing for too long periods. My gallbladder started to be an issue as stones developed inside it, but I was told it was just how my body worked.
I didn’t change my lifestyle at all because PCOS cannot be cured and you can still live your life as long as you balance your hormones using the birth control medication.
They were wrong.
After five years on the same pill my GP advised that the birth control I had been taken was no longer for sale. A number of women had shown very dangerous secondary effects such as blood clots. Some females had even died or been really ill with pulmonary embolism.
In perspective, I can see how the whole message was sugar-coated as he kept insisting that it was really unlikely and this didn’t mean the pill was unsafe. Just in case and with the only purpose to protect everyone from taking any risks, they had decided to remove this medication from the market. And he would prescribe a different pill to me, so I had nothing to worry about.
I was so shocked when I left the medical centre that had a meltdown moment as I walked home. The next thing I did was to go online to research everything about PCOS, hormones, birth control medications and how came that the public health system allowed a dangerous drug to enter the market.
I was reading for weeks. Among other things, I learnt that the pill that I had been taken for 5 years had gallbladder stones as a potential secondary effect (1 in 10,000 people) as well as varicose veins in the legs *surprise surprise!*. Today I feel I was lucky because some other risks of taking this medication are even worse: from breast and liver cancer to autoimmune diseases.
When finish reading and understanding, I made a decision that I intend to keep for my entire life: no more birth control pill or any other hormonal treatments and keep medications to the bare minimum going forward.
But what about PCOS?
For the past few years I have been living with PCOS and taking no medication. I went to see a number of specialists, got laser treatment for my facial hair, continuously watch my weight with a PCOS expert nutritionist and try to exercise as much as I can.
I am basically working on the prevention side and listening to my body. Some months my period is spot on and some other months it comes late. I know I have a higher risk of diabetes, heart disease and increased cholesterol levels because of PCOS, but I am trying to manage them through my lifestyle.
Taking the pill now feels like playing a very dangerous game because you don’t know what secondary effect you might get. I have friends that are on it and it is working for them; whereas my experience is quite discouraging. It is the thought of uncertainty that puts me off as when it comes to my health the only risk I want to take is the one that comes with being alive every day.
Disclaimer: the pictures used in this post are from pixabay and I have no ownership over them.
- If you suffer from PCOS too, there are some charities that can provide support, like this one.
- This infographic about PCOS is very interesting.
- Lottie Winter from Vogue wrote a good article about millennials and the pill.
- Edwine Langley from BBC asked three different women to tell their experiences on the contraceptive pill.
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