Lea Michele on PCOS: 'The Symptoms Can Be Brutal'

It’s always refreshing when a celebrity uses their platform to raise awareness about a health problem that doesn’t get enough attention. Case in point? Lea Michele just revealed she was diagnosed with PCOS, and her admission is already sparking necessary dialogue about this oh-so-common but rarely discussed hormonal disorder. And even better, Michele offers hope — explaining how she has managed to minimize her “brutal” symptoms.

The Scream Queens star suspected something was wrong just shy of her 30th birthday when she began struggling with seemingly unexplained but persistent issues. “The side effects can be brutal — like weight gain and bad skin,” Michele shared with Health for its October cover. She continued, “I didn’t know what was going on. All people wanted me to do was give me more medication. 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.”

In fact, while she didn’t realize it at the time, Michele began experiencing signs of PCOS in her youth. “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,” she revealed, adding that birth control ultimately proved to be “a savior” for her during her teen years. It was when she decided to detox her body of medications in her late 20s that everything (and then some) came back with a vengeance.

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For those of us who live with PCOS, or polycystic ovary syndrome, just reading this elicits an involuntary head nod of understanding. Although PCOS is the most common hormonal disease in women of reproductive age — affecting 1 in 10 of us — there remains comparatively little research and a shocking amount of misinformation.

My personal diagnosis came in my mid-20s after years of blood tests, hormone level evaluations and numerous misdiagnoses. Like Michele, I suffered from severe acne. I gained 40 pounds in one year. To this day, I deal with unwanted hair growth, or hirsutism (ask me how much fun that is!). I would, and sometimes still do, go through extreme bouts of insomnia, not being able to sleep for days. And the chances are, if you’re sitting in a room full of women, at least one of them has experienced something similar. They may not even realize yet they suffer from PCOS.

Which brings us back to Michele, and why it’s so heartening to hear her speak about her diagnoses so openly, and especially the fact that she is managing her symptoms effectively. “I went to a great doctor, and the minute she looked at me, she was like, ‘Oh, you have PCOS.’ It explained everything. 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,” she admitted to Health.

But to be clear, acknowledging your own struggles doesn’t diminish anyone else’s. I, for one, am grateful Michele decided to come forward with her diagnosis. The more we talk about PCOS, especially at such a public level, the more likely it is that research and treatment will become a priority for the medical community.

For more information on PCOS and how to manage symptoms, visit pcosaa.org.

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