The Sunday News
My story starts in the year 2002, when I hit puberty. When I got my first period as an eleven-year-old, it was not “normal”; therefore I only got my period three times a year, four at most. Being a teenager I never paid much attention to it, I always felt it was part of puberty and me growing into my body and things would eventually become “normal”. As I got older, (about 19 years old), I would get my period for longer periods of time than I used to, which raised alarm. A period that would normally last 2 weeks would now go on for six to seven weeks. I would be in pain and my flow would be heavy, which led to me being exhausted and frustrated. My first visit to the gynaecologist did not leave me with much answered questions apart from “it’s due to hormonal imbalance, nothing contraceptives won’t solve”. This became my all time diagnosis. As the problem worsened and the older I got I was in search for answers. During this time I gained weight, had facial hair growth, chronic digestive issues, low energy, insomnia, stress, anxiety and depression. It was pretty horrible a lot of the time. December 2018 I visited a Chinese gynaecologist specialist and was diagnosed with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). This came as a relief as I finally had a diagnosis. So started my journey to recovery and knowledge of my problem. Indeed “knowledge is power”.
In our African culture/societies menstrual issues are not really talked about and there is not much awareness being raised surrounding this topic. Many young girls and women are suffering in silence as they have limited/ no access to information on menstrual disorders. Many women in our societies are being stigmatised and labelled as barren, akabvisa mimba, haazvari, akaroiwa and so much more. I am sure most women have heard the “pane miti yaanogona kunwa inorapa, or ukanojamba churu zvinogadzirisika” theories, and believe me I tried it all with no luck.
What is PCOS?
It is a health problem that affects 1 in 10 women of childbearing age. Women with PCOS may have infrequent or prolonged menstrual periods or excess male hormones (androgen) levels. The ovaries may develop numerous small collections of fluid (follicles) and fail to regularly release eggs. There are four types of PCOS: insulin-resistant PCOS, inflammatory PCOS, hidden-cause PCOS, and pill-induced PCOS. The exact cause of PCOS is unknown, factors that might play a role include:
– Excess Insulin: Insulin is the hormone produced in the pancreas that allows cells to use sugar, your body’s primary energy supply. If your cells become resistant to the action of insulin, then your body might produce more insulin. Excess insulin might increase androgen production, causing difficulty with ovulation.
– Low grade inflammation: Our body’s natural response to insults for example irritation/ inflammation secondary to maybe infection is to produce white blood cells and other hormonal substances to fight off insult. Research has shown that women with PCOS have a type of low-grade inflammation that stimulates polycystic ovaries to produce androgens, which can lead to heart and blood vessel problems.
– Heredity: Research suggests that certain genes might be linked to PCOS.
– Excess androgens: The ovaries produce abnormally high levels of androgen, resulting in hirsutism (excess hair growth e.g. facial hair) and acne. Early diagnosis and treatment along with weight loss may reduce the risks of long term complications such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease. PCOS requires one to go on a health journey that involves a lifestyle change.
I am passionate about raising awareness on menstrual disorders; giving information on these topics allows me to empower women and girls on these sensitive issues so that they can seek appropriate help from qualified professionals. Raising awareness also allows the public to be knowledgeable about these issues and they can be more sensitive towards women faced with these challenges. Ponama S M Munandi, BA Social Work (Honours), University of Namibia 2015. Feedback:[email protected]/ 0778325215