Coping with Endometriosis and Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)

Coping with Endometriosis and Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)

Endometriosis and Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)

Many women struggle with reproductive disorders such as endometriosis and polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). These diseases often cause symptoms of pain and discomfort that can last long term. At this time, we know of no definitive cure for PCOS, however, research continues and has revealed some treatments that can help relieve the symptoms of this condition. A range of drugs and alternative medicine treatments may help women with endometriosis or PCOS have a better quality of life.

What Is Endometriosis?

Endometriosis is a disease that affects the endometrium – the tissue that lines the inside of the uterus. Normally, the endometrium only grows in the uterus. In people with endometriosis, it grows in other places throughout the body, including the ovaries, fallopian tubes, bladder, or intestines. Endometrial tissue may even grow in places outside of the abdomen, such as the lungs, but this is rare. Patches of endometrial tissue may be called implants or lesions.

About 11% of American women have endometriosis. It is especially common among women in their 30s and 40s.

Symptoms of Endometriosis

The most common symptom of endometriosis is pain. About 3 out of 4 women with endometriosis experience pain in the pelvis, lower abdomen, or lower back. Endometriosis may bring about different types of pain:

  • Pain before or during periods
  • Pain during urination or bowel movements
  • Pain during or after having sex
  • Pain that doesn’t go away for many months

Endometriosis can also lead to infertility, heavy or irregular periods, digestive problems, and feelings of tiredness or weakness.

What is Polycystic Ovary Syndrome?

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PCOS is a disease that affects hormones. Hormones are molecules that act as messengers. They help tissues in different parts of the body communicate with each other.

In women with PCOS, the hormones that help control the reproductive system are not correctly balanced. PCOS causes the ovaries and adrenal glands to make too much of the male sex hormones. Hormone imbalances can create problems with ovulation – the process during the monthly cycle where the ovary releases an egg. The egg may not form correctly, or it may not be released when it’s supposed to be. When ovulation doesn’t occur as it should, fluid-filled sacs in the ovaries that contain the eggs can grow bigger, forming a cyst.

PCOS affects about 10% of all women. This disease can affect women at any age, but most women discover they have this condition when they are in their 20s and 30s.

Symptoms of PCOS

People with PCOS may develop many different symptoms. These can include:

  • Abnormalities in your period, including absent, irregular, or heavy periods
  • Too much hair on the face, chest, abdomen, or thighs
  • Thinning hair or baldness on the scalp
  • Acne or oily skin
  • Obesity or weight gain
  • Pain in the belly or pelvis
  • Patches of darker skin

Many women with PCOS also struggle with infertility. Sometimes, PCOS can increase a woman’s chances of miscarriage.

PCOS and Other Health Conditions

Many women with PCOS are resistant to insulin, a hormone that regulates the body’s metabolism. Insulin resistance often leads to type 2 diabetes. In fact, over 50% of women living with PCOS are diagnosed with diabetes by the time they turn 40.

PCOS can also increase the risk of developing other diseases related to metabolism or heart health:

  • High blood pressure
  • Unhealthy cholesterol levels
  • Heart disease
  • Stroke

Many people with PCOS also develop sleep apnea, depression, and anxiety. A woman’s risk of cancer of the uterus may also be increased if she has PCOS.

Medications for Endometriosis and PCOS

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Although you can’t cure your endometriosis or PCOS, you can find ways to manage symptoms. Work with your health care team in order to come up with a treatment plan that works well for you. When recommending a particular therapy, your doctor may consider factors like your age, how severe your symptoms are, and whether you hope to have children.

Your treatment plan may change over time if your condition improves or progresses. It’s a good idea to have follow-up appointments with your doctor every 6 to 12 months. This helps your doctor keep an eye on your disease, detect any serious health concerns, and get a better idea of when new treatments may be needed.

Managing Pain

Pain is a major symptom of both endometriosis and PCOS. Some women manage this symptom by taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen. Opioids may be an option for women who experience severe pain. However, opioid drugs come with many risks, including addiction and overdose, so your doctor may recommend that you try other pain relievers first.

The FDA has approved a medication for treating pain from endometriosis. It is called Orilissa (elagolix). It is a new medication in pill form that is a GnRH (gonadotropin releasing hormone) medication that stops the release of hormones that cause the growth of endometriosis. This drug is a form of hormone treatment.

Hormone Treatments

Hormone levels affect how severe endometriosis is. Estrogen, a female sex hormone, can spur endometrial lesions to grow and spread. Sometimes, taking medications that contain hormones can even out estrogen levels. Options include:

  • Birth control pills: Taking birth control can often reduce symptoms. Your doctor may have you take only the hormone-containing pills and skip the placebo or sugar pills.
  • Progesterone or progestin therapy: Taking this hormone through pills, shots, or an intrauterine device (IUD) may shrink endometrial growths.
  • Gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH): This treatment makes your body go into temporary menopause and can stop endometriosis lesions from growing. GnRH can also help with pain from endometriosis.
  • Gonadotropin-antagonist medicine: This pill stops your ovaries from making estrogen, which may slow down growth of endometrial tissue.

PCOS may also be treated with hormone medications. For example, taking birth control pills can treat PCOS symptoms like irregular periods and acne. Hormonal birth control may also decrease your chances of developing endometrial cancer.

PCOS is sometimes also treated with anti-androgen medicines, which block male sex hormones and reduce their levels. Taking androgens may help reduce body hair, clear acne, and improve hair growth on the scalp. However, anti-androgen medications may not be a good choice for women who may become pregnant.

Hormone treatments generally come with many side effects. Make sure to ask your doctor what to expect from these treatments, both positive and negative, so that you can decide whether the benefits are worth the risks.

Diabetes Drugs for PCOS

Some doctors prescribe Metformin, a diabetes drug, to women with PCOS. Metformin may make periods more regular, help women lose weight, and treat fertility problems. This drug may also treat PCOS symptoms like acne and excess hair growth.

Controlling PCOS Hair Symptoms

PCOS often leads to excess hair growth if the patient’s testosterone level is elevated and this can make you feel self-conscious. Hair removal creams may be an inexpensive way to manage this symptom. Additionally, your doctor may be able to prescribe medication that can make hair grow back more slowly. Procedures like electrolysis or laser hair removal can prevent hair from growing back long-term. However, these procedures may be expensive and need to be performed in a doctor’s office.

Endometriosis or PCOS Surgery

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Severe endometrios is sometimes treated with surgery. During a laparoscopy or laparotomy surgery, a doctor can remove endometriosis lesions and cut nearby nerves in order to reduce pain. This type of surgery can be a good option for women who want to have children in the future. However, surgery is generally not a permanent solution. Endometrial tissue often comes back a couple of years later.

Some women with endometriosis choose to get a hysterectomy. During this procedure, a surgeon removes the uterus and sometimes the ovaries and fallopian tubes. After having a hysterectomy, you will not be able to get pregnant.

Surgery may be an option for women with PCOS who struggle with infertility. If other PCOS treatments don’t work, a surgery called ovarian drilling may help. During this procedure, your doctor makes a few small holes in the ovary in order to remove the tough outer layer. This can help some women get pregnant.

Managing Endometriosis and PCOS With Other Treatments

Before prescribing medication for reproductive health problems, your doctor may first recommend that you make some lifestyle changes, such as eating fewer calories or getting more exercise. These changes can improve symptoms for some women, and they don’t come with the side effects that you may experience when you use medications.

Other alternative health strategies may also help make endometriosis or PCOS easier to deal with. However, it is important to know that many popular supplements, diets, or alternative treatments aren’t actually effective. Sticking with treatments that have been proven in clinical trials helps you have the best chance at reducing symptoms.

Diet

The things you eat can impact your endometriosis or PCOS symptoms. Some women with endometriosis have reported eating less dairy, carbohydrates, and gluten, and eating more fish, fruits, and vegetables. These women had fewer endometriosis symptoms and felt better overall.

Some of these same changes may help people with PCOS. In one study, women with PCOS followed a low-dairy, low-carbohydrate diet. The participants lost weight, had a healthier balance of hormones, and could use insulin more effectively.

Nutritional and Herbal Supplements

Some women with reproductive health problems turn to supplements to help manage symptoms. Certain vitamins and minerals may be effective at reducing period cramps:

  • Vitamin B1, also known as thiamine
  • Vitamin E
  • Magnesium
  • Omega-3 fatty acids

Additionally, one clinical trial showed that antioxidants such as vitamins C and E may help endometriosis patients. Women who took these vitamins had reduced levels of inflammation in their bodies and experienced less pain.

When treating PCOS, other supplements may help. Early research has found that certain nutrients may reduce some PCOS symptoms, especially if one is found to be low in these vitamins and minerals:

  • B vitamins, including B6, B12, and folic acid
  • Vitamin D
  • Vitamin E
  • Myo-inositol
  • L-carnitine
  • Chromium
  • Selenium
  • N-acetyl-L-cysteine
  • Omega-3 fatty acids

Medical science is still collecting data on these supplements so it is not fully understood or clear how effective they might be. Additionally, supplements can have side effects and can interact with other medications, so it is always a good idea to check with you physician before taking any of those listed here. Always tell your doctor and pharmacist about any supplements you are taking.

Physical Activity

Getting exercise may help with weight loss, which can make your periods more regular and treat infertility for people with PCOS. Additionally, physical activity can help reduce your chances of developing conditions related to PCOS. Women who exercise more have better heart health and may reduce the risk of developing mental health disorders. Exercise may also help with endometriosis pain.

Relaxation Techniques

Mindfulness meditation can be effective for managing pain, including lower back pain. Many women with endometriosis say that meditation and breathing exercises can be effective pain relievers. Studies have also found that mindfulness can reduce stress and lower blood sugar levels for women with PCOS.

Yoga is a form of physical activity that also incorporates elements of relaxation and mindfulness. Yoga can encourage the body to release pain-fighting endorphins and reduce inflammation.  In particular, three different yoga poses have been found to help control pain that comes with periods:

  • The cobra pose
  • The cat pose
  • The fish pose

Studies have found that yoga can help women with endometriosis have a better quality of life and live with less pain. Additionally, PCOS studies have shown that yoga can help balance hormone levels and improve mental health.

Mental Health Help

Chronic illnesses and ongoing pain often come with worse mental health. Many people with endometriosis and PCOS experience depression, anxiety, and stress. Seeing a counselor or therapist may help you discover new ways to deal with your illness. For example, endometriosis patients who use positive coping mechanisms have lower levels of stress, depression, and pain.

How Do Endometriosis and PCOS Affect Fertility?

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Both endometriosis and PCOS can lead to infertility, or an inability to get pregnant. About 1 in 2 women with endometriosis struggle with infertility. Surgical endometriosis treatments that remove patches of endometrial tissue may help treat infertility. Some women also use in vitro fertilization (IVF). During IVF, egg and sperm samples are mixed together outside of the body, and resulting embryos are transferred to the womb.

For women, PCOS is one of the most common causes of infertility. People with PCOS can also try treatments like IVF. Often, however, infertility is a result of the ovaries not ovulating when they should. Certain treatments can spur your body into ovulating again. These treatments may include:

  • Losing weight
  • Medications, such as clomiphene, letrozole, or gonadotropins, that affect certain hormone levels in the body
  • Ovarian drilling surgery

Women with PCOS also have a three times greater chance of having a miscarriage. Metformin, a diabetes drug, may possibly help reduce this risk, but additional research needs to be done in order to confirm this.

Building Community

When dealing with a chronic illness, it can be very helpful to find others who are in the same boat. While doctors can help you better understand how different diseases and treatments work, they don’t always know what day-to-day life is like when living with a chronic health condition. Support groups and forums can help you connect with people who share advice, answer questions, and offer emotional support.

Ask your doctor or local healthcare center about any local in-person support groups. Alternatively, search for online forums, or support groups within social media sites like Facebook or Reddit.

Conclusion

Endometriosis and PCOS have no definitive cure at this time, short of surgery. However, many women have found safe and effective ways to manage these conditions. It may take trying several different medications or lifestyle changes before you find something that works for you. Regular communication with your healthcare team and connecting with other people who have the same health issues can help you find a treatment plan that fits your needs.

If you would like to discuss further, please make an appointment with Dr. Connor.

Will COVID Vaccines Be Free? When Will They Be Available? All Your Pressing Vaccine Questions, Answered

Will COVID Vaccines Be Free? When Will They Be Available? All Your Pressing Vaccine Questions, Answered

Should You Ever Doubt a COVID-19 Test Result? Read What Dr. Connor Says as Quoted in Parade magazine. 

Dr Connor is quoted in two different articles in Parade magazine. Read about the COVID-19 Test and what doctors think about it, including our own Dr. Connor. Find out what you should do if you ever doubt a result. Also, what about the antigen tests? Are they accurate? Read the article to find out more.

Dr. Connor was also quoted in December of 2020 discussing the vaccine and when it would become available to all.

To further discuss, make an appointment with Dr. Connor.

Covid test
The Pet Parent’s Guide to Hemp Oil for Dogs and Cats (Be Chewy article)

The Pet Parent’s Guide to Hemp Oil for Dogs and Cats (Be Chewy article)

The Pet Parent’s Guide to Hemp Oil for Dogs in BeChewy.com

Confused about hemp seed oil? Hemp seed oil is very nutritious and can have an array of health benefits for people and their dogs. Read this article in BeChewy.com about hemp seed oil’s benefits for dogs and see Dr. Connor’s quote regarding hemp seed oil for humans.

To further discuss, make an appointment with Dr. Connor.

hemp oil
Can Working From Home Affect Your Mental Health?

Can Working From Home Affect Your Mental Health?

Can Working From Home Negatively Affect Your Mental Health?

Can working from home negatively affect your mental health? In the era of COVID-19, many of us have discovered what it is like to be a remote worker. Our working days often look very different than they used to. In many cases, these changes can have a negative effect on mental health.

Experts predict that many jobs will remain remote after the effects of COVID-19 begin to disappear. In one mid-pandemic survey, more than 80% of employers said they were considering offering more work-from-home options even after the pandemic ended. If there is a chance that you will continue to work from home for some time, it may help to know how to set up your work environment and routines to better protect your mental health.

It’s Not Just You: Working From Home Can Be Stressful

Can Working From Home Affect Your Mental Health?

As many as 3 out of 4 workers in the U.S. have reported feeling stressed during COVID-19. And research from before the pandemic began has found that remote workers tend to feel more stressed than those who work on-site.

Stress can come with many symptoms. The following signs may indicate that your stress levels are high:

  • Feelings of nervousness or uncertainty
  • Feelings of sadness or depression
  • Tiredness
  • Feelings of anger or irritability
  • Low motivation levels
  • Difficulties with paying attention
  • Sleeping problems

There are several things that can be adding to workplace stress during COVID-19. Many people have additional duties, both at work and at home. Some people may not have all of the tools they need to get their job done from their house. Additionally, changes in routine, uncertainty about the future, and worries about health concerns all add up to more stress.

Sometimes, you only experience stress for a short period of time, such as when you’re in a new, scary, or dangerous situation. This is known as acute stress, and is normal – it’s the body’s way of keeping us safe. However, when stress lasts long-term, it can become a problem. This type of stress, called chronic stress, can lead to negative effects on mental and emotional health.

Mental Effects of Stress

If your brain is feeling foggy or if it seems like you just can’t get things done like you used to, there’s a good reason. High levels of chronic stress can cause memory problems. Stressed people are also more likely to have low energy levels and difficulty focusing. Increased stress also leads to more serious mental health problems. Nearly a third of telecommuters say they have experienced symptoms of anxiety or depression during the pandemic. People are also increasingly turning to drugs and alcohol to cope.

When stress remains a constant presence hovering in our minds, it can cause burnout. People who are burned out have very negative feelings about work. They often feel very exhausted, distance themselves from work or from coworkers, and don’t get as much done. Burnout is a real diagnosis and one that I continue to see in my medical practice in the last 14 months. Burnout affects the way the brain works. People who feel burned out have a harder time remembering things and paying attention. On the other hand, some research has found that when people feel better about working from home, they are less likely to feel burned out. Finding ways to make telecommuting more enjoyable may help protect your mental health.

Impacts on Physical Health

People who experience long-term chronic stress are also more likely to have various physical health problems. These can include:

Stress can also negatively affect sleep, which can in turn cause additional health problems. Among people who have started working from home due to COVID-19, at least half report that they aren’t getting as much sleep as they used to.

The Benefits of Working From Home

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Although working remotely can be stressful in some ways, it may help to know that setting up in a home office can positively affect your mental health too. If you’ve been working at home for over a year, you may not be remembering all the stressful parts of your previous in-person role.

No Commuting

The average commute time for Americans was at an all-time high before the pandemic hit. Spending a lot of time in the car every day can increase stress levels, leading to negative effects on physical and mental health:

Staying at home during your workday may mean that you avoid stressful traffic, have more social time, and get more sleep.

Productivity Boosts

Some research shows that when people work from home, they get more done. Additionally, the vast majority of employers have said that productivity has increased during COVID-19. Believe it or not, you may be doing better at your job now than you were when you were going into the office.

Other Benefits

Working from home may help you save money. You aren’t paying as much for commute-related expenses, and eating lunch at home is usually cheaper than buying lunch at work. Additionally, you could move to a more affordable location and work from there. If you plan your schedule right, you could also have more time for other non-work activities like exercise or hobbies. Many people enjoy their jobs more when they can do them from home.

Mental Health Solutions for Remote Workers

Telecommuting can be both a relief from stress and a source of it. If you restructure your working day and make the most of working from home, you may end up feeling better about your job and having less mental health worries.

Create a Separate Work Environment

Trying to resist temptation and avoid distractions wears down your mental energy, which can make you feel more stressed at work. Take a look around your home workspace. What catches your eye? A cluttered desk, television, or nearby smartphone may be a constant source of distraction. Separate yourself from temptation as much as possible while working. This separation is crucial so that you can close the door to work, both figuratively and literally, after your workday is complete.

Eliminate Multitasking

Research shows that people who multitask more often are actually worse at it! If you’re trying to do multiple things at once, you may not be doing as good a job as you think you are.

Workers in one survey spent an average of 40% of their day multitasking by communicating with coworkers while trying to accomplish other tasks. Technology like Microsoft Teams and Slack makes it possible to work from home, but also provides another source of distraction. Studies have found that people who are regularly messaging while they work take longer to get things done. Try to avoid checking these apps while in the middle of a big project, or schedule time to catch up on messages once every couple of hours.

Work Smarter By Using Your Body’s Internal Clock

Different processes within the mind and the body follow a pattern called a circadian rhythm or a biological “clock.” At different times of day, things like alertness, digestion, and body temperature naturally change. You likely feel more energetic and focused during specific times. One study found that students were likely to get better grades during morning classes, while another found that test scores improved after lunch.

Try noting how you feel at different times each day, or track your activities with a time-tracking website or app. When you look back at what you accomplished over multiple days, you might see a pattern. What time of day do you usually get the most done? Try scheduling tasks that require a lot of focus during times of higher energy and productivity. Then, plan to check email or take meetings when your amount of focus is lower. If you seem to hit a slump at the same time each day, try taking a break right before you usually reach that point.

Stick to a Set Work Schedule

Does avoiding a daily commute mean you have more free time? Not always. A pre-pandemic study found that people who telecommute work an average of 3 hours more per week. During COVID-19, the length of the average workday increased further. More work may equal more stress.

Try to set consistent work hours each day. If possible, choose a start time and end time to your workday, and make sure to also schedule in some break periods to give your brain a chance to recharge. Sticking to a schedule can help give you a stronger sense of control.

One of the major reasons people have been working longer during the pandemic is that they spend more time on email. Try taking your work email off of your smartphone and only answering it during working hours. If you sometimes need to respond to email during the evening, designate one small block of time for checking your messages and stay out of your inbox for the rest of your non-working day.

Once your workday is done, it’s time to distract your brain. Try building a habit of doing a certain ritual once you’re finished each day. This can help signal to your brain that work is done and it’s time to switch gears. Engaging in a more passive activity like watching TV makes it easy for work-related thoughts to creep in. Instead, try activities that require your full attention. Picking up a new hobby, planning some social time with a loved one, or cooking a fun dinner can help you leave your work behind and fully enjoy your free time.

Move Your Body

Sitting all day is bad for your health. It increases risk of many different health problems, including high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, and certain types of cancer. Even if you regularly schedule exercise sessions outside of work, it doesn’t undo all of the damage of sitting down for the remainder of the day.

Make time for movement throughout the workday. Do a couple of stretches during a 5-minute break or take a 15-minute walk around the block. Try not to remain in your seat for large blocks of time. I often tell my patients to take a short break every hour if sitting at a computer. Your eyes will also thank you, since computer work causes strain to the eyes.

Get Some Sunlight

Going on a walk is a great step, but location matters too. Some studies have found that there is a difference between walking around in the city and spending time in nature. In a city setting, there is more chaos – honking cars and bright billboards are calling out for your attention. However, when you take a walk through a more natural setting, your brain gets a chance to reset and you can improve your ability to focus. Other research has found that walking through nature lowers anxiety levels and improves your mood. Find a park nearby to spend some time in, or schedule time on the weekends to immerse yourself in a natural environment.

Stay Socially Connected

Telecommuting often means that you’re spending a lot of the day on your own. Make sure you’re engaging in social time, both inside and outside of work. Take a bit of time during your workday to check in with coworkers. During work breaks, message a friend or family member. Outside of work, spend some quality time playing with your kids, or plan a visit or phone call to catch up with a loved one. Making time for social activities can boost your sense of belonging, improve self-esteem, and provide an outlet for giving and receiving support.

Balancing Responsibilities at Home

When you work from home, it may seem like it should be easier to keep up with your roles around the house, but the opposite is often the case. Work and home stress can easily bleed together, with one set of jobs distracting you from finishing the other.

Women are particularly facing difficulties in this area. 44% of women and only 14% of men say they are the only one in their household with childcare duties. Women are also more likely to feel under pressure, exhausted, or burned out at work. Overall, many parents are finding it very difficult to work from home while also overseeing their children’s online schooling.

Work with your family or housemates to find a solution that works for everyone. Try to lessen the amount that you multitask by setting up a schedule with your spouse to divide childcare or pet-related responsibilities. Make sure you’re devoting some time to the kids, but also set aside time where you’re only thinking about work. Have your spouse or another family member keep an eye on the kids, even if just for an hour or two. Try to set boundaries to protect this time – it’s okay to say “no” sometimes.

Remember That This is Temporary

Yes, remote workers have reported higher levels of stress during the pandemic – but so have on-site workers. A great deal of the stress that people are feeling right now is not just due to working conditions. Living through a global pandemic has meant that many of us are dealing with health concerns, isolation from loved ones, financial difficulties, and new routines. These other factors all add to our stress levels, making working from home seem especially difficult right now. It’s possible that once the number of COVID-19 infections drops and regulations are lifted, some of these other stressors may improve. Working from home may become more enjoyable once the effects of the pandemic lessen.

Know When to Ask For Help

Long-term stress can easily turn into more serious mental health problems. If you are constantly feeling overwhelmed or are experiencing symptoms of anxiety and depression, talking to a healthcare professional may help. Bring up these feelings at your next appointment with your primary care provider, or seek out a psychiatrist, therapist, or counselor. Many different websites and apps now also offer virtual counseling sessions. Talking to a professional can help you further learn how to manage stress and improve mental health.

Conclusion

Despite the possibility of added stress, most people like to work from home at least some of the time. In one recent survey, nearly 3 out of 4 people said that in the future, they hoped to be able to split their time between working at home and working in the office.

There are many strategies that can help you lessen stress while remote working. Even though you may have been working from home for over a year now, it’s possible that you still haven’t found a good routine or an effective work-life balance. Continuing to use trial and error to find potential solutions may help you protect your mental health.

If you would like a physical check-up please make an appointment with Dr. Connor.

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