“Diet and constant exercise helps me control PCOS”

How Doreen Seah deals with polycystic ovary syndrome, which affects the fertility of almost 1 in 10 Singaporean women.


“I was always quite fit as a child and through my school years. I was in NCC, I ran, I was active in church. Active and always exercising.

“Things didn’t change much until I started working in my first job. I can’t quite remember when exactly, but my menses started being irregular and I started getting quite big. At first I thought I was putting on weight, so I tried dieting. My weight went up and down, like my clothing sizes.

“I got married, and stopped exercising. I actually had not too much difficulty getting pregnant — but the irregular periods and bloating still occurred. Then my gynae who handled my child’s delivery and did a blood test, called me in for an ultrasound scan of my ovaries.

“He told me I have PCOS. He said it’s a hormone imbalance and something like 8 per cent of women in Singapore have it. My body was making more androgens (male hormones). My gynae said everyone makes a little bit, but mine was higher than usual. And it had lead to cysts forming on my ovaries, which could lead to scarring. I felt so lucky that I had had no problems having my son.

“He explained that I had a choice — I could go for hormonal treatments or try regulating my lifestyle. He said that since I was not obese, I don’t have high blood pressure and I’m not diabetic (though my family has some history of both conditions), I could try exercising. If that didn’t work, we would have to review my treatment options.

[PCOS had lead] to cysts forming on my ovaries, which could lead to scarring. I felt so lucky that I had had no problems having my son!

“So after not exercising for 11-and-a-half years, I started running again. Actually, I built up the habit again until I was regularly running 10 clicks and completed several half marathons in the past decade. I’ve had to reduce some of that because my running took a toll on my back and my joints, but now I also do Pilates several times a week.

“I also changed my job to a less stressful one, and I am a volunteer who counsels some groups of less-fortunate people — helping with financial coaching and life management.

“I have been very lucky that my symptoms were only irregular menses and bloating (though at the time, I was kind of obsessed about my weight). I’ve talked to other people with PCOS and they’ve had so much trouble conceiving, or developed diabetes or had bad cramping.

“I have been able to control my condition through exercise and eating healthy. And I’m continuing that. I was hoping that with menopause, I could relax a bit, but apparently I will have to stay alert because the imbalances could persist after, and I will still be vulnerable to diabetes.”

Doreen Seah, 48, an administration executive, lives with her 17-year-old son, and husband of 30 years in Telok Blangah.

Read on for the low-down on PCOS…