(NEW YORK) — Actress Sasha Pieterse is sharing more details of a health issue she faced while starring on the hit TV show Pretty Little Liars as a teen.
Pieterse, now 27, said she struggled during her time on the show with polycystic ovary syndrome, or PCOS, a reproductive hormone imbalance that affects around 1 in 10 women of childbearing age, according to the U.S. Office on Women’s Health.
The exact cause of PCOS is unknown, but people with the condition have higher levels of androgens, such as testosterone, and insulin. The condition can cause problems with the menstrual cycle and can lead to the formation of multiple ovarian cysts and cause infertility.
For Pieterse, she said she struggled with an irregular menstrual cycle and weight gain, changes that she said were “documented on camera” due to her role.
“It was probably around 15, 16 [years old] that I started noticing a difference in just my metabolism in general,” Pieterse said on the latest episode of “The Squeeze,” a podcast hosted by Taylor Lautner and his wife Taylor Dome Lautner. “At 17, I gained 70 pounds in a year, for no reason. There was no explanation for it.”
In addition to weight gain, symptoms of PCOS can include everything from irregular or absent periods to excessive facial hair and acne.
Like many women, Pieterse said she struggled to get a diagnosis, going to over 15 gynecologists as she sought help.
It was only when she saw an endocrinologist who Pieterse said listened to her symptoms and took blood work that she was finally diagnosed with PCOS.
“It was the most frustrating experience and disheartening because no matter what I did, no matter how well I behaved, no matter how great I treated my body, things were actually getting worse rather than better — it was very very confusing,” Pieterse said. “So, after a long process, someone recommended that I go to an endocrinologist.”
There is no single way to diagnose PCOS, according to the Office on Women’s Health. In addition to blood work, doctors rely on physical exams, pelvic exams, pelvic ultrasounds and a patient’s medical history.
Often, other conditions are ruled out and then a doctor diagnoses PCOS if a patient meets two of these symptoms: irregular periods, signs of high levels of androgens (like acne and extra hair growth), multiple cysts on one or both ovaries or higher than normal blood levels of androgens, according to the Office on Women’s Health.
There is also no cure for PCOS, so patients often rely on a combination of treatments to manage their symptoms, including medication and weight loss.
Pieterse, who gave birth to a son named Hendrix in 2020, said she speaks out publicly about her journey with PCOS to help raise awareness of the condition.
She said when she was diagnosed nearly a decade ago, she had not heard of PCOS, which affects women of all backgrounds and can happen at any age after puberty, according to the Office on Women’s Health.
“It’s been quite the journey and I love talking about it because I just want women to know more about it,” she said. “I just feel like the louder you are about it, the more people know, the more people get checked out, the more interest there is helping women figure it out and get better.”
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