"Growing up, I had terrible skin," Lea said, citing one of the PCOS symptoms. "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 saviour for me when I was in my teens." In her late 20s, when she wanted to "detox my body of all medications" the PCOS symptoms started showing. " That’s when everything happened—the return to bad skin and, this time, weight gain." Soon, she was diagnosed with PCOS.
PCOS is a very common hormonal disorder found among women of reproductive age, according to the National Women's Health Network. Though researchers don't know exactly what causes it, they believe there's a genetic component, but it's often brought on by stress and environmental factors, including diet, exercise, and pollution.
Hormonally, the condition disrupts the follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), the hormone which causes eggs to develop, and the luteinizing hormone (LH), which causes the follicle to release the egg. Symptoms include irregular menstrual periods, acne, hair loss or growth, and unexplained weight gain.
Lea has been able to manage her PCOS with diet. "But I am very fortunate," she said. "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."
This article originally appeared on Women's Health US.