A dangerous disorder: A WAFF 48 News special report

By Karla Redditte- bio | email

HUNTSVILLE, AL (WAFF) - Have you picked up a few pounds in a short period of time, especially around your waist?

Do you have hair loss or a constant craving for sweets?

You may think these are simply signs of aging, but they could signal a deeper medical issue that, if not treated, could have devastating effects.

Dancing has been a part of Letariel Jordan's life for as long as she can remember. Even when she was a little girl, she danced in her dreams and she put in several hours a day to perfect her passion.

She was surprised when she began to see a change in her usual size eight body in November of 2007.

"I've always gained ten pounds and easily get it back off in a matter of two months, through dancing and things of that nature. But this time, it wasn't coming off," said Jordan. "I began to see just puffiness in my face, puffiness in my arms, just a difference in my eating habits."

Renee Nelson noticed similar symptoms in 2003. She'd always been petite at five feet one inch tall and weighed about 100 pounds.

She quickly gained 20 more pounds, stopped ovulating regularly, and noticed she just wasn't her usual, energetic self.

"I was feeling kind of sluggish and real tired all the time," recalled Nelson. "I knew something was wrong."

Both women headed to their doctors to see what was wrong. Both were diagnosed with polycystic ovarian syndrome, also called PCOS.

[PCOS on MayoClinic.com]

"About five to eight percent of reproductive age women would meet the diagnostic criteria," said reproductive endocrinologist Dr. Andrew Harper. "And that makes PCOS the most common endocrine condition."

Dr. Harper has treated a number of women diagnosed with this condition. It's described as a hormonal imbalance in reproductive age women. It happens when small follicles of an ovary do not fully develop.

Because of this imbalance, too much insulin can be produced in the body to digest sugars, causing a rise in a woman's testosterone levels.

This leads to such symptoms as weight gain in the midsection, irregular cycles, excess body hair or hair loss, even infertility.

Dr. Harper says if untreated, the imbalance can lead to more serious conditions.

"Untreated insulin resistance can surely lead to more cardiovascular disease," he explained.

While there is no magic cure for PCOS, Dr. Harper says it can be controlled and some of the symptoms reversed. Taking medication like metformin is one option.

This increases your body's response to insulin and controls the amount of sugar in your blood. But many see the most success in overcoming this diagnosis through a healthy diet and exercise.

"Higher insulin levels can make you more hungry, it can make it difficult to lose weight. So we want them to cut back on their carbohydrates," said registered dietician Anna Key.

Key says a balanced diet is key when it comes to easing symptoms of PCOS. Fruits and vegetables are always healthier choices, but even with those, you have to be careful.

"Starchy vegetables are potatoes, corn, beans, and even peas," said Key. "It's hard to imagine peas because they are green, but those have a higher starch content, rather than your green leafy vegetables or tomatoes, cucumbers, things like that. So you do want to keep those to about half of a cup."

Jordan now maintains a healthy weight and hopes to start a family one day. But until then, her advice for other women diagnosed with PCOS is simply making lifestyle changes.

"Get active and just try to make sure that you don't find yourself feeling like woe is me...when you can really do something about it," advised Jordan.

Nelson did that and started ovulating again. She soon welcomed her daughter Ariel, something she thought she'd never do.

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