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Lea Michele Says Her PCOS Diagnosis “Explained Everything” After Battling “Brutal” Symptoms

Prevention logo Prevention 9/10/2019 Korin Miller
a close up of Lea Michele: Actress Lea Michele revealed she has polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), and that her symptoms were "brutal." Here, doctors explain the signs to watch for. © VALERIE MACON - Getty Images Actress Lea Michele revealed she has polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), and that her symptoms were "brutal." Here, doctors explain the signs to watch for.

Actress Lea Michele started experiencing some weird symptoms when she got close to her 30th birthday. She once again started to develop acne after dealing with major skin struggles as a teen and her weight started fluctuating. So, she saw a doctor and eventually discovered she had polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).

“The side effects can be brutal — like weight gain and bad skin,” she told Health. But Michele, now 33, said doctors originally couldn’t figure out why this was happening.

“Growing up, I had terrible skin. I went on Accutane three times. I was put on every medication that you could imagine to help my skin. Luckily, birth control was a savior for me when I was in my teens,” she said. “And then when I was in my late 20s, I realized I wanted to detox my body of all medications. That’s when everything happened—the return to bad skin and, this time, weight gain. I didn’t know what was going on.”

The Glee alum said her doctors wanted to put her on more medication while they tried to find answers, but she was resistant. “All people wanted to do was give me more medication,” she said. “I don’t shun people for needing or wanting to take medication, but for me, I knew something wasn’t right. I just felt medication wasn’t going to be the final cure.”

She finally found a doctor who knew what was wrong. “I went to a great doctor, and the minute she looked at me, she was like, ‘Oh, you have PCOS.’ It explained everything,” Michele said. “Through diet, I have been able to manage it. But I am very fortunate. There are way more extreme versions of PCOS that women have a lot of difficulty with—mine is not as intense. Which is why I haven’t really talked about it, because there are women who have it so much more intense.”

What is PCOS, again?

PCOS is a condition that’s created by an imbalance of reproductive hormones in women, according to the Office on Women’s Health. That imbalance causes problems with the ovaries, which make eggs, and can cause a woman’s eggs to not develop as they should or to not be released during ovulation like they should. PCOS is relatively common—it affects about one in 10 women of childbearing age in the U.S., according to the Office on Women’s Health.

What are the symptoms of PCOS?

PCOS can cause a range of symptoms, including irregular periods, acne, facial and excess body hair, weight gain, and even male-pattern balding, says women’s health expert Jennifer Wider, MD. “Women with PCOS may also have a hard time conceiving,” she adds.

“Your hormones—estrogen and testosterone—are completely lopsided and irregular,” explains Sherry Ross, MD, an OB/GYN and women’s health expert at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, Calif. “Your periods can come every two weeks, every three to six months or once a year.” Periods can also become heavier, last longer, and come with painful cramping, Dr. Ross says.

How is PCOS diagnosed?

While Michele was surprised to learn she had PCOS when she was nearly 30, it’s actually not rare for women with PCOS to discover they have the condition around this time. “Many women only find out that they have PCOS when they are trying to get pregnant,” Dr. Wider says. “It’s very common to be diagnosed in your 20s and 30s.”

Typically, women will be diagnosed with a pelvic exam (where your doctor will feel for cysts, masses, or other abnormalities that are common with PCOS), a blood test to measure your hormone levels, and/or an ultrasound to look at your ovaries, Dr. Wider says.

How is PCOS usually treated?

It kind of depends on the woman’s symptoms, Dr. Wider says. Treatment can include behavioral modifications, like losing weight and exercising more, birth control pills or progestin to regulate your menstrual cycle, or ovulation-stimulating drugs and hormonal therapy.

It’s also not uncommon to go on a plant-based diet when you’re dealing with PCOS. “Eating foods that are plant based, nutrient-rich, fresh, and unprocessed along with healthy fats is an ideal diet focusing on a lifelong diet strategy,” Dr. Ross says. “Controlling your weight helps control irregular periods, excess hair growth, and acne.”

Michele said she now focuses on eating plant-based foods, and she’s found it’s really helped. “Now, I feel like I am at the healthiest place in my entire life,” she said. “It’s not that I’m the thinnest, because I’m not the thinnest I’ve been. But when I was the thinnest, I was not being the healthiest. I’m definitely the most mentally, physically, and spiritually sound that I’ve ever been.”

Slideshow: 50 foods the world's healthiest women eat every day (Provided by Prevention) 

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