PCOS (Polycystic Ovary Syndrome) is a condition in which there is an increase in the amount of androgens or male sex hormones in women, which are usually only present in limited amounts. This leads to the formation of cysts (fluid-filled sacs) in the ovaries. PCOS may lead to various long term health complications such as infertility, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, mental health struggles and endometrial diseases.
Even though PCOS is a serious health condition, there is still a lack of awareness about its symptoms and treatment. The most prominent symptoms of PCOS include irregular periods, excess hair growth on the face, stomach and back, acne, hair loss, weight gain, depression, anxiety and low self-esteem, among others.
PCOS and fatigue
A symptom of PCOS that is common but not medically examined or explored enough is exhaustion/ fatigue. Fatigue is a condition wherein an individual has a feeling of overall tiredness and exhaustion, lack of motivation to work, or to move. This exhaustion makes it doubly difficult for a person with PCOS to conduct their life.
Fatigue due to PCOS can have a huge impact on an individual because it drains out energy making the person sluggish. In most cases, due to PCOS people tend to gain weight which in turn also results in a feeling of fatigue. Insulin resistance which affects the glucose breakdown in the body is another reason for fatigue in people with PCOS. When insulin breaks down glucose, it results in the production of energy due to which a person feels fresh. It also helps in digestion and makes the person active to do things. Due to insulin resistance, though the body produces insulin, it does not work. This results in low energy and fatigue.
There are various other causes of PCOS related fatigue including mental stress. Stress can cause fatigue which can have an impact on overall health. PCOS also results in sleep problems such as sleep apnea and insomnia leading to tiredness and low energy.
If a person’s thyroid function is not optimal, it also increases fatigue. Thyroid malfunction is common in people with PCOS. In this scenario, the body does not produce enough thyroid hormones which can result in the person feeling drained. The hormonal imbalances caused by PCOS also can trigger adrenal fatigue.
Other underlying medical conditions such as iron deficiency, food intolerance, vitamin B12 deficiency, clinical depression and the like, can also result in chronic fatigue in people with PCOS.
An interaction with gynecologist Dr. Pooja Kadam further revealed that most people know that they have PCOS, but they don’t know what exactly PCOS is. They are unaware of the cause and the necessary precautions or measures to be taken to cope. She also mentions that patients very often do not know that fatigue is a symptom of PCOS.
Most patients do not seek medical help when they experience fatigue. They visit doctors only when they face problems like irregular periods, weight gain, excess hair growth, or infertility. She says that though there are various reasons due to which a person may experience fatigue, if the person also observes other PCOS related symptoms, it is advised to get tested. There are clinical tests to determine whether a person is suffering from fatigue due to PCOS or not.
Women and fatigue: Commonly experienced, yet not adequately addressed
An interaction with women about their PCOS journey highlighted exhaustion as one of the most common experiences. Most of them feel exhausted after doing the bare minimum. There is a constant feeling of drowsiness that they experience. The heavy bleeding during periods also makes them increasingly tired.
These symptoms are not independent of one another and one symptom can result in another. For example, an impact on sleep which increases exhaustion may have an impact on the person’s personal and professional routine. The research paper titled Persistent Fatigue in Well Women highlights that there is a relationship between fatigue and mild depression. Fatigue also affects people coping with stress – the higher the level of fatigue, the more difficult it is for the person to manage their stress.
Fatigue in developing countries is largely also connected with anaemia and nutritional deficiencies in women. In a survey conducted in the year 2019, it was found that Indian women spend eight times more time doing domestic and caregiving work than men. Due to patriarchal conditioning, gender is an important factor affecting the experience of individuals. In India, due to traditional beliefs, male members are given more importance than women. Women are always dependent on a male member of the family and have little decision-making power over their own health.
This gender-based distribution of work puts more burden on women. Women play multiple roles such as that of a caregiver, homemaker, parent, and wife, which increase their labour. This pressure makes leads to poor appetite, hypertension, and anxiety. The work load increases in the case of working women who not only have to manage their work but also take care of the house.
According to a study, women have to perform excessive heavy physical work and have a disadvantage in access to food which results in them having low body mass index and also suffering from fatigue.
Many women complain about feeling weak and tired for more than six months. Even though fatigue is a symptom of a serious health condition like PCOS, it is not given enough importance. When a woman suffers from fatigue, the cause of execution and lack of motivation to work is not taken seriously. So even if she wants to work, the physical and mental exhaustion can hamper her performance, which may lead to her being called lazy.
Fatigue and PCOS are very closely connected and fatigue remains underexplored, especially in women due to their assigned gender roles and lack of awareness. Women are mostly expected to labour without complaining. Most women have also internalised this, which is why they do not consider fatigue as a medical problem or a symptom of PCOS that may require further investigation.
Featured Image: Ritika Banerjee for Feminism In India
About the author(s)
Geeta Gunjal is a fresh graduate from Symbiosis School for Liberal Arts, Pune. She majored in International Relations. She likes to read books and binge-watch K-dramas. She is trying to learn more about Intersectional feminism