PCOS Awareness Month: A Guide to your Doctor’s Visit
Ever suspect that something is going on with your hormones? Maybe you’ve stopped your hormonal birth control and you’re noticing cystic acne, painful periods, and a few extra chin hairs that you swear weren’t there a few months ago. Maybe you’ve been trying to get pregnant, but you’ve noticed that your periods seem really far apart, or too close together, leaving you unsure when (or if!) you’re actually ovulating. Maybe you’re noticing you’ve gained weight or are experiencing frequent headaches, or increased thirst and hunger. These can all be signs of Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome — aka PCOS — a hormone disorder that can rear its ugly head with a variety of symptoms and can be the cause of infertility struggles.
Quick disclaimer — while we did a bunch of research for this guide from credible sources, we aren’t doctors. It’s important to get your medical advice from a medical professional, so we’ve put together this guide to help you navigate what to do before and during your doctor’s visit to get the most out of your time (and hopefully ease some of the anxiety that comes with your appointment!).
Before you schedule your appointment, it’s good to know a bit of background on what PCOS is and where it comes from. PCOS gets its name because of the many small sacs of fluid that form on the outside of the ovaries. These cysts can be the cause of decreased fertility, and can cause pain — especially when ruptured. Oftentimes, there is also an excess amount of a hormone called androgen that can cause extra facial and body hair, acne, and even male-patterned baldness. There isn’t a known cause for why someone develops PCOS.
If you relate to some of these symptoms and you’re starting to worry, take a deep breath. Fertility issues due to PCOS are common, but if becoming pregnant is your concern, there are solutions you can try with the help of your doctor. Hormonal acne, hirsutism, insulin resistance, and pain can also be eased through a variety of methods. About 1 in 10 women have this diagnosis, meaning you are far from alone in these experiences.
But, before you fall deep in the rabbit hole of research, we’ve created this simple guide to help you navigate your initial appointment with a gynecologist or primary care physician. While the Internet is rife with suggestions for managing your health, it’s important to see a doctor to receive a proper diagnosis and medical advice. Here’s what you need to know:
- Show up to your appointment with a list of all your symptoms and for how long you’ve been experiencing them. Having a pre-written list of your symptoms will ensure you don’t forget anything. Try keeping a list in your phone and add to it as you learn more about PCOS.
- Be ready to discuss details of your menstrual cycle. Factors such as how many days are between your periods can give your doctors vital information when it comes to a diagnosis. Make sure you also discuss how long your periods last, how heavy they are, and the level of discomfort you’re experiencing.
- Be sure to note any and all medications and supplements that you take and how often. For this step, it could help to write down or print out a list to give to your doctor. Information like dosages will be easier to communicate through a list than relaying everything verbally. And don’t skip this step, especially with supplements! It’s super important to include them because certain supplements can affect your hormone levels, and other supplements can help relieve your symptoms. This is a crucial starting point for your doctor to be able to help you.
- Tell your doctor about any other health conditions, medical info, recent life changes, or stressors that you’re experiencing. All of these factors could play a role in symptoms like irregular periods, and you want to make sure that your doctor can see the whole picture even in a short appointment.
- Lastly, you’ll need to make sure you’re asking the right questions to get the most out of your visit. This helpful list from Mayo Clinic can act as a guide to questions you may want to ask:
If you forget a question or don’t get to everything in your first appointment, that’s okay. Many doctors provide an online patient portal where you can reach out with minor questions or details that you forgot to mention. You may also need to schedule a follow up appointment after your doctor learns more about you. If your first doctor’s appointment is with a gynecologist or a PCP, it’s possible that you could be referred to an endocrinologist or a reproductive endocrinologist. They specialize in hormone related disorders and may provide an extra level of insight.
Taking the first step can be intimidating, but teaming up with a good doctor can be the key to understanding if you have PCOS and where to start with treatment. Being your own best advocate and showing up prepared is an act of self-love — one that you deserve. Too often, we can feel discouraged by a daunting healthcare system or by making time to prioritize our health. This PCOS Awareness Month, take this guide as an opportunity to invest in your wellbeing and see a professional if you think you could be part of the 1 in 10 that has PCOS.
We have some new things on the horizon coming soon to help manage and alleviate PCOS symptoms. We can’t wait to share them with you — stay tuned!
Cleveland Clinic.org: “Insulin Resistance.”
Mayo Clinic.org: “Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS).”
Women’s Health.gov: “Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome.”