Myths and Cysts: Demystifying PCOD
Leela Moza writes — for a disease that is so widespread, PCOD is not often discussed in mainstream media. In fact, around 200 million women worldwide have been diagnosed with PCOD. Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome or PCOD is a hormonal, reproductive and metabolic dysfunction which leads to irregular menstrual cycles, acne, hair loss, weight gain and a hoard of mental health problems. It is a gateway disorder to many others such as anxiety, bulimia, diabetes, depression and endometrial cancer. It is a disorder that presents itself differently in different individuals, not every person with PCOD will have the same symptoms.
From a medical point of view, there is a higher than normal amount of androgen, a ‘male’ hormone, in a ‘female’s’ body. This is the reason behind menstrual irregularities and other symptoms such as hair loss and acne. The reason behind PCOD is not known, it could be a lifestyle disorder or may have a genetic component.
PCOD and Mental Health
Despite being a physical disorder, PCOD has many mental health consequences due to how it is understood socially. People who have PCOD have higher rates of depression and anxiety. From a social view-point, the reason behind these mental disorders is the scrutiny that an individual’s body is subjected to. The emotional toll of the symptoms of PCOD such as hair loss, acne, weight gain and difficulty conceiving can often lead to a low self-esteem; PCOD symptoms often distort a person’s perception of themselves. The lack of control over the symptoms as well as the heavy scrutiny can sometimes lead people with PCOD feel like they are being punished for not conforming to society’s ideals of ‘beautiful.’
PCOD has an impact on our body, mentally and physically, It can often feel like you have no control over your own body, it may feel like you are not doing enough as an individual to ‘stay healthy’ in accordance to the standards of the society. The unsolicited advice that people offer often puts the blame on the individual that has the disorder, this is why it is important to educate ourselves about PCOD and how it affects the people who have it. The blame of the symptoms does not lie with the person, just like with any other illness, they are in a situation that they cannot control.
PCOD and Fat Bias
The obsession that our society has with certain body types and an idea of what is ‘healthy’ is also the reason behind women with PCOD being at a higher risk for eating disorders. Often there is a focus on the uncontrolled weight gain and it is seen as the reason behind the disease instead of one of its symptoms. Individuals are often asked to lose weight as a remedy to PCOD. However, losing weight with PCOD can be difficult due to insulin resistance. Which means a lot of women will go through extreme dieting, exercises and self-restriction only to realise that none of that actually helped them lose weight. This often leads to a cycle of guilt that can lead to disordered eating. An obsession with weight and a fixation on weight loss as a remedy can push people who have PCOD towards an eating disorder.
Often due to the fat bias in medicine, even doctors fixate on weight loss. It is often assumed that a person who is fat is lazy, ignorant and has a weak will power. A medical health professional might demand losing weight as an outcome without realising that they know nothing about what the patient has done, or has already tried. The simplistic advice of ‘just lose weight’ often assumes that losing weight is easy for the person; it does not keep in mind their relationship with food, their mental health, or if they can afford some of the tools that might aid in weight loss. And often health is conflated with the size of the person, an individual who is not stereotypically fit is not given a thorough medical examination. Instead, their size is assumed to be the reason behind any problem that they might have. Being fat is immediately seen as the only reason behind the disorder, it is seen as the problem. Fat bias in medicine is also one of the reasons why fat people are often misdiagnosed, and are also less likely to go to healthcare professionals for their problems. This is because of the years of conditioning that tells them that their weight is the problem; every physical symptom that they might have is immediately attributed to that.
PCOD can be extremely stressful — emotionally and physically. The institutional challenges that often accompany it do not make the disorder any easier. The high rates of PCOD amongst individuals now means that there is at least one individual that all of us know who suffers from the disorder. This is why it is important for us to educate ourselves about the disorder, ask for better prognosis and have productive conversations about the fat bias, lack of resources and fixation on fertility that often accompanies the disorder in medical sectors.