For as long as I can remember, I have battled with acne. When I was a teenager, I asked my mom to buy me a new acne cleanser or pimple cream every time we went to the store. Nothing seemed to work, and I was getting frustrated with all the different products I was using (and my mom wasn’t happy with all the money she kept spending). My doctor prescribed me some topical medication but it was so strong and dried my face out so I stopped using it before I could see any results. I would get painful cystic acne that couldn’t be covered with makeup. I popped them because they looked so awful, which of course made them look worse and lead to scarring. After awhile, I stopped trying to prevent and treat my acne because nothing worked. It was embarrassing to now be in my 20’s with acne worse than a teenager’s. But I had given up and decided that I would just have acne for the rest of my life and there was nothing that could be done.
When I was in my late 20’s, I started losing hair. It’s natural to lose a certain amount of hair every day, but my hair was falling out so much that it was becoming obvious to those around me. My hair would clog the vacuum cleaner, end up in clumps in the bathroom drain, and was on every surface of my house. The part in my hair became wider and crept down the back of my head. I even had an outbreak of alopecia, which came as a quarter-sized bald spot on the back of my head. Thankfully I had enough hair to cover it, but I was always worried a strong breeze would reveal my bald spot. This hair loss prompted me to go to see a doctor at my college health clinic. At first, he didn’t find anything wrong with my blood tests. He said that hair usually grows back on its own for someone with alopecia. I could start using Rogaine but it may not help. Eventually, the hair in my bald spot grew back, but my hair was still thinning. My self-esteem had plummeted. Acne and now hair loss!
Two years later, during a regular annual exam with my primary doctor, she noticed that my acne was bad and she referred me to see a dermatologist. Since I also had questions about my thinning hair, I decided to make an appointment. The dermatologist ordered more blood tests to be done, which I thought wouldn’t show anything since the other doctor said everything looked normal. However, he said that he would order more specialized tests that a general physician may not order.
He suspected I had polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), which is a scary name and I immediately feared the worst. The blood tests and an ultrasound confirmed that I had it. Basically, it is cysts on the ovaries which make testosterone levels too high. It results in acne, oily skin, hair loss, weight gain, irregular periods, and difficulty conceiving. Suddenly my symptoms made sense. It wasn’t that I wasn’t using the right products or wasn’t following the right skin care routine. It wasn’t that my hair loss came out of nowhere or that it was all in my head. It was all because I had PCOS.
The disorder can be managed with medication (I’m on metformin). My doctor also advised me to lose weight, which would help alleviate the symptoms. So far, I haven’t seen much improvement in my acne or hair loss, but I am working hard to lose weight and I diligently take my medication. If you think your acne isn’t getting better and have some of the other symptoms of PCOS, I would recommend seeing your doctor. It took two doctor visits and a dermatologist to find that I had PCOS, and all because my hair loss was out of control. I never thought there was a reason for my acne, but I find relief knowing that it’s because of a disorder that can be managed.
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