The struggles of women with polycystic ovarian syndrome

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Black woman with mask on (Photo credit:

September is Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) Awareness Month. PCOS is caused by an imbalance in reproductive hormones, leading to symptoms such as weight gain, hair growth, irregular periods, acne and fertility issues. It is a condition that affects one in 10 women of childbearing age in Jamaica. September is dedicated to having conversations about this common condition.

Dr Kimberly Sommerville, whose background is in internal and family medicine, is a key organizer for PCOS1in10Ja, a social campaign aimed at bringing awareness to PCOS, its impacts and the need for continued research and advocacy for the people who are affected by the condition. She explained that women suffering from PCOS often experience numerous challenges when speaking to their doctors about their condition. “The patient’s complaints are usually dismissed. Some doctors only focus on achieving weight loss. Some doctors accuse patients of not trying hard enough to lose weight. Other doctors recommend the patient come back for treatment only when they are ready to have children. Yet other doctors suggest having a child will reverse symptoms,” said Dr Sommerville.

Dr Kimberley Sommerville suggested that more research was needed on PCOS to improve doctor-patient relations and treatment for women with the condition. “The doctor-patient issues are avoidable. Once more awareness and research is done, and doctors take a multidisciplinary approach, for example, referring patients to gynaecologists, nutritionists and therapists,” said Dr Sommerville.

Jhaneil Smith, who has been diagnosed with PCOS, said it is insensitive to be constantly told to lose weight in order to help with her PCOS symptoms. “To me it kinda downplays the other things that come with PCOS. Telling me I’m fat and overweight isn’t very effective in treatment. It’s not that easy because you can’t even find the energy sometimes to get up and take care of yourself, much less exercise. You have to take baby steps like changing your diet, creating a morning routine, starting supplements to assist you in getting to the point of exercise, and that isn’t talked about enough,” said Smith. She added that while she understands that people with PCOS have to make better lifestyle choices, being told to lose weight was not a treatment plan.

Julianna Henry, also diagnosed with PCOS, added that there needed to be a ‘more gentle’ approach when advising PCOS patients of the need for lifestyle changes in order to alleviate the symptoms.  “I think they should be gentler in their approach. Most of the time, the immediate response is them telling you, you won’t have children or it will be difficult to have children. That fear can be crippling, especially when not properly explained,” said Henry.

Additionally, Jhinelle Brown noted that symptoms experienced by women with PCOS are trivialized because the treatment methods are non-invasive.  “I would really like to see doctors show the same amount of sensitivity like they would for cancer, or any other lifelong or life-threatening diseases,” said Brown. She added that she was told to diet, exercise and take medication, but was not given any treatment for the mental effects of PCOS.

“For those patients struggling with their PCOS management I would say be open to sharing your experience with others and find a PCOS support group or even other women with PCOS. This may lead you to finding a medical professional who’s right for you. Also do your research so you can advocate for yourself when speaking to medical professionals,” advised Dr Sommerville.

Dr Sommerville has worked at the Kingston Public Hospital and numerous private practices in the corporate area. She also has a Masters of Clinical Nutrition from the University of Aberdeen, UK and is currently utilizing this knowledge to enhance her medical practice and advocate for women’s health through nutritional consultations and sharing nutrition information on her social media platforms.

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