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Featured Image Credit: Gabriella Ferlita
I was 14 when I nervously made my first doctor’s appointment for a slew of embarrassing symptoms.
Acne, irregular and heavy periods, and excess hair growth on my face and body were a part of my everyday reality in my teen years.
But I was shocked to be told by medical professionals time and time again that my symptoms were ‘normal’ or even attributed to me ‘being Italian’.
And let me tell you, I didn’t take very much comfort in the fact that some mornings, having to choose between removing the hair from my cheeks, chin and upper lip or being bullied for something out of my control was ‘normal’.
Growing up, others tended to tease me for the hair on my face. They would jokingly ask what method I use to remove my hair or ask why I had hair there in the first place.
But perhaps the most painful comment was in college, when a close friend told me that a boy said to my friends that I had more hair on my face ‘than he has on his a**’. I was mortified.
Seven years on from the constant battling of symptoms - the most demoralising of which included the virtually constant waxing, threading, depilatory creams and hair bleach - and countless amounts of blood tests and ultrasounds, doctors finally diagnosed me with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) at age 21.
I still remember the relief that washed over me when I got my medical diagnosis. I felt validated that I knew my symptoms were real and verified that I was in touch with my body - not paranoid about it.
But that relief soon turned into downright shock when my endocrinologist would inform me that most women with the condition, which affects the function of the ovaries, as per NHS England, turn to laser hair removal to treat hirsutism (excess hair growth) and pay for it themselves.
Despite waiting years for a diagnosis and treatment, I was looking at upwards of £300 for ten sessions of private laser treatment on my face, with no guarantee that it would necessarily work for my skin or hair type. And being a student at the time who worked part-time in childcare, this wasn’t exactly music to my ears.
You see, when it comes to endocrine disorders, they are severely under-researched, underfunded and rarely understood. This can lead to long wait times - an average of eight years when it comes to endometriosis to receive a diagnosis in the UK, in fact, as well as underdiagnosis and disparities in access to care.
The UK has the largest gender health gap among all G20 countries, as well as having the 12th largest gender health gap across the world, according to The Guardian.
Former health minister Maria Caulfield, who worked on the Women’s Health Strategy for England which aims to improve healthcare for women in vital services around fertility treatment, pregnancy loss, and menopause, believes that these waiting times ‘are not acceptable.’
She told Tyla: “When putting together the Women’s Health Strategy, we looked at the issue of time delays to get a diagnosis for endometriosis. At the moment, there are no clinical guidelines that set out the gold standard in terms of a timeline, so that is why we do not refer to this specifically in the strategy.
“However, the aspiration is clear that we want to see significant improvements in the waiting times women face to get a diagnosis for endometriosis, as the average of eight years is not acceptable.”
Ms Caulfield also explained that referral rates and diagnostic test requests for hormonal conditions are ‘priority areas’ for the current Women’s Health Ambassador ‘so that women are referred and investigated much earlier on than currently happens'.
After the only NHS treatments available to me failed - the contraceptive pill made my symptoms worse, Eflornithine hair inhibitor cream was no longer able to be prescribed and I wasn’t a candidate for the ‘off-label’ diabetes drug Metformin - I had no choice but to cough up the money for laser hair removal. My self-esteem depended on it.
After navigating laser treatment myself at two different clinics - racking up a grand total close to £600 - my hair growth has completely dwindled and I now feel confident enough to write about my condition today without fear of someone pointing out a stray hair.
My only hope is that one day all women with hormonal disorders will be taken seriously and given all the treatment they need within a reasonable time frame. Take it from me, seven years just doesn’t cut it.
Tyla has contacted a representative of the NHS for comment.
If you’re worried about having Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, speak to your GP. If you have PCOS and are in any type of crisis, text PCOS to Crisis Text Line on 741741 from anywhere in the United States or United Kingdom for 24/7 support and information.