I was diagnosed with PCOS at around 23 years old. And like with my other mental and physical health issues, PCOS is likely just another effect of my childhood trauma.
My periods were never regular. Initially, it was considered normal. But a decade later, it was still irregular.
My period occurs every three to four months. And when it’s here, it’s here for a while, like two weeks minimum. One time, it lasted for three months. And it would’ve continued if I hadn’t finally found a doctor who stopped it.
My irregular periods and heavy bleeding were always a struggle growing up. Almost every period leaves me anemic, exhausted and drained. On top of that, I constantly struggled with prediabetes and my weight despite the positive changes I thought I made. So I ended up giving up time and time again.
But whenever I give up on trying, it only gets worse. So I had to try again. Then, I see some improvements, only to give up all over again because everything stagnates again.
My cycle of trying, not trying, then trying again was the only one I could predict. At least trying makes it “okay” rather than just “bad”. I am at the point where I am trying again. And that’s all I can do. Try. Try and hope that things will get better.
I never really understood my struggles. No doctor could tell me what was wrong with me. They blamed it on my weight and suggested I lose it. And when I don’t or can’t lose the weight, it’s like I’m no longer worthy of their help.
When I got my diagnosis, things made a little more sense. But there is no “cure”. It was just another label on my pile of diagnoses that I believe was caused by my childhood trauma.
This post will discuss what PCOS is, its link to childhood trauma, and what you can do about it.
Please note that I am not a mental health or medical professional. The information in this post should not be taken as professional advice or diagnosis.
What is PCOS?
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), around 8 to 13% of reproductive-aged women around the globe have PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome). And many more remain undiagnosed.
Experiencing PCOS is a pressing concern, as it is one of the most common causes of infertility in women, along with other health complications.
Essentially, PCOS is a hormonal disorder that affects people with ovaries. It’s usually diagnosed when someone’s in their 20s or 30s. But symptoms can occur at any age after puberty. The way PCOS manifests also varies from person to person. This can make it a challenge to diagnose in some cases.
Irregular menstrual periods remain the most common indicator of PCOS. Additional signs include hormonal acne, excess hair growth, weight gain, dark patches of skin, cysts in the ovaries, and heavy menstrual bleeding.
As a hormone disorder, PCOS was found to increase androgen levels – hormones usually associated with the male sex. This increase may prevent the ovaries from releasing an egg each month, thereby disrupting the ovulation cycle and impacting fertility.
Furthermore, individuals with PCOS are more likely to have insulin resistance, where the cells do not typically respond to insulin. This causes high levels of insulin in the body, leading to hyperglycemia and an increased risk of diabetes.
Additionally, the resistance to insulin also makes an individual with PCOS more susceptible to obesity due to the metabolic abnormalities it can cause. As a matter of fact, the link between weight and PCOS is so prevalent that up to 88% of women with the condition are also diagnosed as overweight or obese.
What Causes PCOS?
What makes PCOS extremely complex is the fact that the exact cause of the condition remains unknown. That said, several risk factors associated with its common symptoms have been identified.
Excess weight, lack of physical activity, and a family history of diabetes are possible risk factors. However, given that the condition can manifest differently each time, some risk factors require further inspection from a medical professional in order to assess and identify.
So there are various possible factors that can affect the development of PCOS. However, one of the most surprising and nuanced causes of the condition is linked to childhood trauma.
This connection further highlights the importance of addressing the effects of childhood abuse and the ways they can influence someone’s physical, emotional, and even reproductive health.
In addition to the physical health aspects that influence the development of PCOS, there are also psychological comorbidities that can advance the condition.
One particular find is related to childhood trauma, which significantly affects a number of people and can have lingering effects that persist well into adulthood.
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, an estimated 46% of children experience trauma at some point in their young lives. As many as 15% of girls and 6% of boys develop PTSD following a traumatic event.
As mentioned in my post about symptoms of childhood trauma in adulthood, this can lead to some difficulty with emotional regulation, loss of interest in activities, issues with school, and other developmental problems.
Children dealing with trauma are also likely to experience mental health difficulties including depression, emotional distress, and some forms of psychotic disorders.
Not only does this make navigating everyday life a challenge, but it can also lead to self-sabotage and difficulty maintaining relationships with other people.
Exploring the Link Between Childhood Trauma and PCOS
In line with this, research found that trauma from an early age was significantly associated with PCOS, as it has a unique effect on the endocrine system.
The emotional abuse experienced by some women seemed to have increased their risk of developing PCOS compared to women without psychiatric disorders and trauma.
Despite the limited sample size of the research, it presents significant implications on how childhood trauma can affect a person’s well-being in relation to PCOS.
This is because trauma sensitizes the HPA axis, which affects the hormones, especially adrenaline, cortisol, and oxytocin. Trauma makes people more reactive to stressors and is more likely to increase cortisol (stress hormone). This can lead to weight gain, which can put someone at a higher risk for PCOS.
Furthermore, survivors of childhood trauma who are still experiencing PTSD symptoms, like anxiety, can further aggravate the hormonal imbalance already caused by PCOS.
For many women, this can result in worse manifestations of PCOS that can lead to a toxic cycle that results in more heightened mental health issues, including depression and disordered eating. In many scenarios, this results in chronic hormonal dysregulation.
Additionally, since stress can encourage inflammation, evidence suggests that this physical response increases the chances of PCOS developing.
Among those who have been diagnosed but have more manageable symptoms, stress-induced inflammation can cause symptoms to flare up more aggressively.
Treating PCOS and Its Symptoms
I know all too well the toxic cycle of struggling with PCOS amongst other physical and emotional health issues. This constant struggle can no doubt negatively impact our ability to manage and function in our daily lives.
Unfortunately, without consistent treatment, monitoring, and motivation to care for ourselves, we become more likely to succumb to the effects of PCOS and trauma.
And due to the complicated nature of PCOS, there are no permanent treatments available yet. However, there are different methods to manage its effects.
Treatments for Physical Symptoms of PCOS
Since obesity is a common risk factor, one of the leading treatments for PCOS involves weight loss. This is primarily because losing weight can improve PCOS symptoms.
Notably, weight loss can reduce insulin resistance, adjust the androgen levels within the body, and lead to improvements in ovulation.
However, PCOS does make it difficult to lose weight due to insulin resistance. That extra insulin created by the pancreas promotes fat storage and increases hunger. Because of this, weight loss medication for PCOS is often prescribed to address the biological limitations affecting the reduction process.
Metformin is a common weight loss prescription for PCOS since it improves the sensitivity of peripheral tissues to insulin. It helps counteract resistance, which can help induce weight loss. It is also safe for those who are pregnant or looking to get pregnant since it’s been found to help regulate ovulation.
Aside from this, some doctors also prescribe GLP-1 medications such as those that go by the brand names, Wegovy and Saxenda. Originally designed to treat type 2 diabetes, GLP-1s are now used off-label for chronic weight management, which could result in up to 20% weight loss with regular use.
Since these medications also regulate blood sugar, they can help PCOS patients who are also suffering from insulin resistance.
Alternatively, providers also use birth control and contraceptive pills to treat PCOS. This method targets hormone correction within the body, increasing a person’s estrogen levels and decreasing the amount of androgens their body produces.
However, some patients are unable to safely take this medication as it can risk cardiovascular issues and further weight gain. I’ve also had to try multiple types, dosages, and brands of birth control to find one that gave me the least side effects.
Again, I am not a medical professional. It’s best to consult with your doctor or another healthcare professional on how to best proceed in addressing your PCOS symptoms.
Treatments for Stress and Trauma
Ultimately, while the above initiatives can possibly treat PCOS on a physical level, they do not address the psychological factors connected to it. That’s why it’s essential to find healing and coping methods to deal with the mental health effects PCOS and trauma have on you.
Depending on you and your care provider, stress and trauma treatments can be therapy such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). At its core, CBT involves understanding the reasons for certain feelings, thoughts, and actions before finding healthy coping responses.
On the other hand, some survivors may want a more holistic approach to dealing with trauma. This can include treatments aimed at mindfulness and wellness, like meditation or exercise. This can also include more sensorial treatments like acupuncture or aromatherapy.
You can refer to a list of different therapies, mind and body practices, complementary methods, and resources for more ideas. Please note that while these methods can help prevent further issues that can worsen or trigger PCOS symptoms, they cannot completely eliminate PCOS.
Overall, as I always say, it’s important to take the steps to begin healing from the trauma you experienced because trauma is likely the root cause of most of your issues, biological or psychological.
Healing from your trauma can help you feel more in control of your life and teach you to take better care of yourself and be more in tune with your mind and body. As a result, you can understand and utilize the best approaches for treating your PCOS.
Coping with My PCOS
PCOS is something I’ve learned to accept that I simply have to live with. But just because I accept it doesn’t mean that I give up on caring for myself.
It can be incredibly difficult at times. And I struggle with thinking “What’s the point” because I’m doing all of these things but seeing no progress or end goal. I have trouble losing weight or I gain it back once I slack a little. I improve my diet but I’m still in the pre-diabetic range.
There are definitely times when I just want to give up. But I told myself I needed to be healthy and try. Try for my family. Try for myself.
Currently, I am monitoring my health with regular doctor visits. I am on birth control to manage my symptoms and reduce my risk of cancer, but not on any other medication as of now.
I am still overweight and I am still in the prediabetic range. But I am working on creating a healthier lifestyle and routine for myself. I try to be more active and I try to eat healthier. I still struggle with finding the motivation to take care of myself and I still struggle with emotional eating.
The biggest thing, I think for me, is to learn to forgive myself. If I didn’t work out today, that’s okay. If I ate something unhealthy, that’s okay.
Because if I lose that self-compassion, it’ll be “what’s the point” all over again, which means giving up. And I can’t give up. Setbacks are bound to happen. I can’t let that keep me from moving forward, even if I’m only moving forward little by little.
Like with any other effect of childhood abuse, PCOS is probably something I have to live with forever. But like with the other effects, it is something I can manage. It isn’t easy. At all. But it is doable. Some days are harder than others for sure. But all I can do is keep trying.
Unsurprisingly, the impact of childhood trauma can last well beyond childhood. On top of the psychological and physical effects on one’s health, it can unfortunately affect reproductive health as well.
While there are existing methods to treat both PCOS and childhood trauma, it is a complex issue to address. It’s essential to ultimately take a well-rounded approach and maintain a routine that can foster a healthy mind and body.
It’s hard dealing with the effects of childhood trauma and PCOS. All you can do is try. Try to identify and meet your needs, physically and emotionally. Try to listen to your mind and body. And finally, try to be patient, kind, gentle, and compassionate to yourself.
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Hi there, I’m Estee. Having grown up with a physically and emotionally abusive mother, I know how isolating, frustrating, and hopeless everything could feel – back then as a child and even now as an adult.
I am always trying to better learn, understand, and manage the effects of the abuse I experienced. And this healing journey I’m on inspired me to create Hopeful Panda, a place where others who faced childhood abuse can hopefully find support, resources, and motivation to begin healing.
A lot of time and effort is put into this blog – for me and for you. If you enjoy my content or find it helpful, please consider sharing and/or making a donation. Thank you!