by Corey Whelan
Who can forget the agonies associated with high school. The desire to fit in with the crowd, yet stand out as a star has taken its toll on just about every adolescent ever born. As if it wasn’t hard enough, for some teenaged girls, the discomforts associated with these tumultuous years will be exacerbated by troubles with weight gain, acne, and excessive hair growth on face and body. Although these symptoms may be caused by a variety of issues, many young women who experience them will eventually be diagnosed with polycystic ovarian syndrome, or PCOS.
A hormonal imbalance, PCOS affects around 10% of the female population in the U.S. Many adult women do not receive the diagnosis until they try to get pregnant, and can’t. While PCOS does not always cause infertility, women with the disorder often have trouble conceiving without the support of assisted reproductive technology. Those who become moms, either naturally or with medical support, often find themselves unendingly scrutinizing their daughter’s physical appearance, worriedly looking for signs that their girls have inherited PCOS from them.
PCOS does tend to run in families, but can be inherited from either the mother's or father's side. Early signs that your daughter may have PCOS include:
- Periods that remain irregular, two years or more after her first onset of menses
- Weight gain and trouble losing weight
- Excessive hair on face and body, including stomach and toes
- Acne on face and body
- Patches of dark skin on the back of the neck, groin, or other areas of the body
- Receding, thinning hairline or male pattern baldness
- Depression and withdrawal, due to concerns about physical appearance
If you suspect your daughter has the disorder, there are a number of things you can do to help her conquer it but first, take a minute and remind yourself that PCOS can be controlled and that it is no one’s fault she has it. Remember that PCOS is a condition with multifactorial inheritance, meaning, both genetics and environmental factors such as diet and exercise impact upon it. Then take a deep breath, and create an action plan.
- Your first step should be a conversation with your daughter. Gently talk to her about your concerns, remembering you are discussing her body and future. While she will always be your baby, as a young woman, decisions about the management of PCOS and its symptoms will be hers to decide.
- Next, seek out a definitive diagnosis from a specialist, such as a pediatric endocrinologist. The doctor will request hormonal blood tests and possibly a sonorgram to confirm the diagnosis.
- Discuss lifestyle changes with your daughter, letting her know that weight loss, exercise and low-carb eating are often enough to regulate hormonal balance and fertility. PCOS is earmarked by insulin resistance, which occurs when the body cannot process the hormone that helps cells absorb sugar out of the bloodstream. Insulin resistance is exacerbated by a high-carbohydrate diet. Make your kitchen low-carb friendly and support your daughter to eliminate foods such as white bread, high-carb pasta, white potatoes and sugary desserts. Consider cooking teen-friendly, low carb recipes together and introducing your whole family to this healthier lifestyle.
- Conversely, let your daughter know that going low carb does not mean she will never have another piece of birthday cake. Make her options accessible and easy.
- Exercise counts. Daily exercise such as walking, running or swimming goes a long way towards diminishing insulin resistance and controlling weight gain.
- Discuss treatment options. If lifestyle changes are not successful, many young women control PCOS by taking birth control pills, which help to regulate the hormonal system. Sometimes, a medication known as metformin is added to the protocol.
- Help your daughter to choose the acne medications that will be most effective for her.
- Gently provide your daughter with information about controlling hirsutism and hair removal.
- Let your daughter know that pregnancy does occur for women with PCOS. If she is sexually active, she must protect herself from both unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections.
- Let your daughter know that peer support is available from other young women who have pcos, just like her.
Most importantly, always make sure your daughter knows how beautiful, feminine and loved she is. Let her know that, even if she is not perfect in her attempts to control PCOS every single day, the disorder does respond positively to lifestyle changes and treatment and if she wants to, she will be a mommy some day. And you a grandma.