Friday, 18 January 2013

Psychological Impacts of Altered Hair Growth in PCOS

Poly-cystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) affects as many as 10% of women and many more share some of the associated symptoms. As if it wasn't enough to have to cope with weight gain as a result of the altered hormone levels in PCOS, excessive hair growth on the face and body is also an issue and is thought to be the cause in up to 80% of women with this problem. However, hair loss from the scalp can be another feature of PCOS. Both these changes in hair growth can cause emotional distress to the women who experience them. Hair growth is a big determinant of our appearance, so very much affects the way we feel about that, which can have negative impacts on our mental well being, and as a consequence can impinge upon everyday life.

Emotional challenges

While men can also experience changes in hair growth it appears to have a more significant impact on women as they tend to worry more about their appearance; not only this, but while studies have shown that balding men are seen as more intelligent, no positive connotations are associated with excess hair growth or loss in women. With their changed hair growth, women no longer perceive themselves in the same way; they feel less attractive, become more conscious about their body and experience a fall in confidence and self-esteem due to increased shyness and embarrassment. This is no surprise, as someone’s hair is one of the first things you notice about them, which is why we place so much importance on how it is styled and invest considerable time and money on it. Hair loss and facial hair growth in women is associated with ageing and because society regards being youthful and attractive as important characteristics, this contributes to the way in which women with altered hair growth feel; fearful of comments and humiliation, these women can become more reclusive. In the most extreme cases, the resulting feelings can lead to clinical anxiety and depression; in a study of women with PCOS who had increased growth of facial hair, 30% had clinical depression and 75% had anxiety. However, not only does the way they feel about themselves change, but their opinion of others; secretly envying friends who don’t have the same problem can occur, which can put a strain on these relationships.

Daily impacts

Not only does attending to problems with hair growth become an obsession and take up precious time – a study found on average women with PCOS spend more than 100 minutes a week attending to this area – but can have an impact on a wide range of areas of your life. Although women with altered hair growth in PCOS can still have a good quality of life, on tests for this they tend to score lower for aspects relating to social life and relationships. A study of women with atypical hair growth showed that for 40% this impacted on their marriage and for 63% caused problems with work. It is common for women to be concerned that their altered hair growth will affect their ability to form relationships with men or that their current partner will no longer find them attractive. This does not only impact on personal relationships, but these women are also less likely to participate in social activities, as they are worried others will notice that their hair growth is different. Lack of confidence can also be an issue for women who work with the public and lead them to seek professional positions behind the scenes.

Coping with changes in hair growth

A number of options exist to manage hair growth, whether that is controlling the problem or making it less noticeable; hair pieces, scarves, hair removal and lightening methods can be used, as can medications for both excessive hair growth and loss. While the negative impacts of changing hair growth can be lessened through these, if you can accept your new appearance, this can help considerably; though how easy this is for you to do depend on the coping strategies you use, your personality and social support. Here are some suggestions, which might help with your acceptance:

  • While much of the anguish around the problem of hair growth or loss is due to focusing on the issue, trying to detract from it is helpful. One way that this can be attempted is to make a list of all the positive things about yourself – whether other aspects of your appearance, personal qualities or your achievements – and concentrate on these, reminding you of all that you like about yourself. Additionally if there is perhaps another area of your appearance that you are not happy with, your problems with hair growth may spur you on to address this, so you might decide to put your efforts into losing weight, becoming more toned or paying more attention to the way you dress, providing you with a confidence boost.
  • Talking about your problems with hair growth might be difficult, but joining a support group – whether online or face to face - where other people are in the same situation can help significantly, as you know that you are not alone.
  • Adopt a healthy lifestyle if you have not already. Not only will eating a balanced diet and taking regular exercise and using appropriate post workout supplements help with weight loss, which in turn can help to improve the symptoms of PCOS including hair growth, but it can benefit your mood. A wide range of nutrients are known to influence feelings of well being and exercise is well known for providing a natural lift to the way you feel. Steps to feeling more positive can raise self-esteem and make you feel happier about your body.
  • Ensure you get enough sleep and take part in activities that will relax you. Relaxation can help to combat stress, which itself can influence the way you feel about your body; stress is also known to worsen problems with hair loss, so learning how to manage stress is vital.

Author: Evelyn Bowden

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