Written by Dominique and Company Dance
with Dr. Brittni Hickey, PCOS Advocate
For dancers, our bodies are our instruments. Throughout our lifetime, our bodies may endure many health issues, due to the intensity of our career, our lifestyle, familial health history and other factors. For a female dancer, it is likely that we have the ability to experience a menstrual cycle and child bearing because of our uterus. One of the most recently explored medical phenomenons that women can experience is PCOS (Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome). To help us better understand the disorder, we decided to engage Dr. Brittni Hickey, PCOS Advocate, to discuss how a dancer (who has been or has not yet been diagnosed) and her career can coexist with PCOS to ensure we are living our best life.
Here are the questions we asked and her responses:
1. What is PCOS?
PCOS (Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome) is a very common hormonal disorder in women that is characterised by irregular menstrual cycles which may be infrequent and without ovulation, features of increased male hormones seen both physically as well as in hormone testing and multiple cysts on the ovaries as seen on an ultrasound.
2. Is having PCOS painful?
The symptoms of PCOS vary from person to person. As mentioned, irregular menstrual cycles are a characteristic feature of the condition. However, an irregular period is a broad term and can mean that one’s period can either be infrequent or prolonged. Also, menstruation can either be painful or painless. So the simple answer to this question is yes, PCOS can be painful but it doesn’t have to be.
3.What are the symptoms of PCOS?
More common symptoms of PCOS include: irregular periods, weight gain, excessive hair growth to the face, chest and abdomen, thinning of the hair, oily skin with severe acne and difficulty getting pregnant. Less commonly mentioned symptoms include: heightened anxiety with mood swings and depression, worsened headaches, difficulty sleeping, fatigue and daytime forgetfulness as well as frequent yeast infections.
4. Can the PCOS symptom, weight gain still affect dancers even if they stay active?
Yes, most definitely. There is a strong link between being overweight or obese and both developing PCOS as well as the worsening of symptoms. Simply put, having PCOS can worsen weight gain as well as make it more difficult to lose weight. It may therefore be difficult to lose weight with PCOS, even while active. Refrain from over exercising.
5. How can a dancer with PCOS lessen their changes of getting frequent yeast infections as a symptom? Bear in mind, dancers often wear tights and leotards.
Frequent yeast infections can be linked to various practices such as hygiene practices, wearing tight clothing as mentioned, recent antibiotic use as well as use of scented sprays and bath products. However, in the case of PCOS, insulin resistance is a common feature which can result in elevated blood sugar levels increasing one’s risk of developing certain infections such as yeast infections. Understanding all of this, there are many ways to reduce this risk. One can opt to treat their insulin resistance through medication use such as metformin as well as making diet alterations to one low in carbohydrates and sugars. To add, breathable underwear is very important as well as ensuring that one doesn’t stay in wet tights for long after each dance class. pH vaginal washes have also significantly shown improvement in individuals. And remember, no bath product that smells too sweet should go down there.
6. As a dancer, performing is a key aspect of the job. Can you give us advice on how a dancer can overcome their anxiety, depression or mood swings for their performances?
There is no perfect way to answer this question but I’ll share what works for me. I’ve found that I can get overly anxious in situations where, in hindsight, it was uncalled for. I’ve practised: relaxing, breathing and letting things be. Prayer before any major event or milestone in my life thus far has consistently helped with my anxiety.
I’ve found that ‘talk therapy’ truly helps with tackling depression and mood swings also. Essentially this focuses on recognizing the emotions you are feeling, the thoughts you may be having as well as the behaviours you may be displaying as a result. So sometimes it’s just best to talk things through with a trustworthy person that will listen. This may actually help settle your thoughts and emotions, especially before a performance.
7. Can a dancer still dance if she has PCOS?
Firstly, a woman diagnosed with PCOS
can do whatever she wants to do
and be whoever she wants to be.
Dancing is a form of expression, a way to help to relieve stress. Dancing is also known to have benefits in improving one’s mood with the serotonin released. The increased activity can also be beneficial in contributing to weight loss. It is, however, important to know that, while increasing one’s physical activity helps to improve one’s weight, prolonged high intensity workouts and high energy routines can be bad for PCOS . High intensity workouts trigger a stress hormone response that can potentially worsen symptoms of PCOS.
A general recommendation in working out with PCOS is to avoid prolonged intense exercises as mentioned earlier so dance routines and choreography can be tailored to this.
8. What are three (3) things you would recommend for dancers with PCOS?
- If not already formally diagnosed, I recommend visiting your usual gynaecologist to do so as well as come up with a plan to target each PCOS symptom.
- For dancers and anyone diagnosed with PCOS, my advice is for you to understand yourself and your body. Track your menstrual cycles using an app. Make note of your symptoms as well as your triggers. This helps you to monitor your improvements along the way.
- And thirdly, as it relates to dancing specifically, avoid prolonged intense cardio in dance routines. All genres and types of dance can be practised, but be sure to incorporate intervals of rest.
Having PCOS doesn’t stop a dancer from dancing. This is an extensive topic of conversation that will be continued but for now, bear this in mind, “Dancing is an ideal aerobic exercise for someone diagnosed with PCOS so all dancing Cysters out there, I say keep at it!”
About Dr. Brittni Hickey
Her PCOS journey
My PCOS journey has been a long, frustrating, emotional and uncertain journey that has, over time, become empowering. A journey over which I can now say that I have near complete control.
I was diagnosed at the age of 14 with PCOS after months of concern from my mother about my extremely heavy and prolonged periods. I was distraught, to say the least. I was diagnosed with a condition that I had never heard of. I hadn’t the slightest clue what to think of it all, or how to even begin processing it. But this is where my journey began. Over the years, I’ve done research on how to tackle my symptoms of PCOS. I’ve found that weight loss and tackling my insulin resistance have significantly improved my menstrual cycles. I’ve also recognized stress, caffeine and weight gain as significant triggers that cause my relapse in symptoms. A huge part of my personal journey has been learning from others also diagnosed with PCOS; how symptoms vary from person to person and how treatment has to be tailored to each individual. All that I’ve learned over the years has driven me to spread awareness about PCOS and help young women to understand that, yes, PCOS can be controlled.
About her book
I distinctly remember at the time of my diagnosis, I had many unanswered questions and I truly felt alone. I wrote ‘Joining the Cysterhood: A Concise Guide on PCOS, Cyst by Cyst’ as a way to answer all those burning questions weighing on the minds of the newly diagnosed cysters as well as those who have been living with PCOS. This book sheds light on both common and uncommon symptoms of PCOS as well as outlines ways to tackle each. What I also hoped to achieve with writing this book is helping cysters to not feel lonely in the fight and to know that they are not alone.
Purchase her book at: https://www.dr-smma.com/e-book