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Sasha Pieterse Opens Up About PCOS — What You Need to Know About the Condition

After a few weeks on Dancing with the Stars, Sasha Pieterse says that she’s already feeling more like herself. In addition to learning new routines, Pieterse has lost 15 pounds and has opened up about a 70-pound weight gain during her time on Pretty Little Liars caused by polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).

“[It was] one of the hardest things I’ve ever been through,” Pieterse said, according to E! News, adding that until she was diagnosed, she “had no idea what was going on and I didn’t have any way of solving it.”

PCOS, one of the most common female endocrine disorders, is a mysterious condition for many women. Here are 11 things you may not know about the hormonal disorder.

1. One check may not be enough

Many women know that PCOS can be hard to diagnose, which is why checking over time — repeatedly — can be integral to catching it. So if you’ve suspected that you have PCOS and not been formally diagnosed, visit your doctor again to get checked.

More: How Changing My Diet Helped With Managing My PCOS

2. PCOS affects more than your skin

In addition to irregular periods, difficult-to-control acne or hair growing in places you don’t want it, PCOS can promote weight gain or difficulty losing tummy weight (although slender women can have PCOS too). PCOS patients may also have insulin resistance issues that can lead to diabetes. And as many women know, the condition can make it hard to carry a pregnancy to term.

3. Medication can help PCOS

Hormone therapy in the form of oral contraceptive pills, metformin and/or Aldactone are medications commonly used with great success in managing the symptoms and outcomes of PCOS.

“Birth control medication can actually worsen insulin resistance and raise triglycerides,” notes Angela Grassi at the PCOS Nutrition Center in Pennsylvania. Some doctors would disagree, so having a full workup done and possibly seeking second and third opinions can really help.

4. It could be a benign tumor — not PCOS

OK, not to be a downer, but there is a condition that mimics PCOS that can be triggered by a benign (noncancerous) tumor — a prolactinoma — growing in the pituitary gland. “If straight PCOS is not found by careful investigation, it may be wise to rule out prolactinoma,” says New York dermatologist Dr. Jessica J. Krant. “If one is found, it can often be treated with medication.”

5. PCOS could be caused by the adrenal glands

A new study by the National Institutes of Health is investigating the possible role the adrenal glands play in the disorder. In some women who have PCOS, high androgen levels have been associated with adrenal gland disorders. The researchers will try to determine whether some women with PCOS have abnormalities of the adrenal glands that could be contributing to the disorder.

More: 13 Crappy Realities of Living With PCOS

6. You can still get pregnant

Many women with PCOS think they can’t conceive, but that’s not true. In fact, more research into the infertility and other issues related to PCOS may unlock the key to helping more patients conceive. Just remember, a diagnosis does not mean that you cannot conceive.

7. Bariatric surgery may reverse infertility

The American Society for Metabolic & Bariatric Surgery recently highlighted a new study that showed women with PCOS improved their symptoms after surgery and wound up conceiving. However, more research is needed on the connection and which type of surgery results in the highest rates of conception.

8. Losing weight could help tremendously

Even if you don’t consider bariatric surgery, you may still be able to conceive upon losing weight.

“The No. 1 treatment for PCOS is not metformin or clomid or birth control pills or spironolactone; but attaining and maintaining a normal weight through a good diet (low glycemic index) and regular exercise,” says Dr. Serena H. Chen, the director of reproductive endocrine and infertility at St. Barnabas Medical Center.

In fact, she says that losing weight or maintaining a normal weight will lower the risk for cancer and make PCOS patients much more responsive to treatment. For people who are trying to conceive, that means improved responses to fertility drugs that not only improve the pregnancy rate but lower the miscarriage rate.

9. You could have sleep apnea

“The vast majority of PCOS sufferers have undiagnosed obstructive sleep apnea,” says Dr. Steven Y. Park, author of Sleep, Interrupted: A Physician Reveals the #1 Reason Why So Many of Us Are Sick and Tired. “Even if they don’t have significant obstructive sleep apnea, many still have breathing problems at night.”

Sleep apnea has its own risks, but resolving it often goes back to losing weight, which is imperative for PCOS patients.

More: Irregular Periods Explained: 8 Big Reasons Why Your Period’s Gone MIA

10. A healthy diet is imperative — & not just for weight regulation

A healthy diet is not only useful to help you maintain a healthy weight. The weight gain that many PCOS patients experience is preceded by insulin resistance, so eating well can help regulate your insulin levels.

“This is a condition whereby the body cannot ‘sense’ insulin and needs higher amounts to regulate blood sugar,” says Dr. Natasha Iyer, a physician at Chronos Apollo in Canada. Even worse, the fatty tissue also makes inflammatory mediators (which raise the risk of heart disease and blood pressure problems) and estrogen metabolites.”

Iyer says it helps to eat low glycemic index foods and enough protein. Natural therapies include Gymnema sylvestre herb, garlic, ginger and holy basil teas.

11. So many people with PCOS are not diagnosed

PCOS sounds like a drag, but at least if you know you have it you can work with it. According to Australian researchers, about 70 percent of women have PCOS and have not had it properly diagnosed. Now that it’s September — National PCOS Awareness Month — it may be a good time to see if you have this condition.

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