I happen to have a medical condition that wasn’t even on the radar screen until fairly recently. Although some people call it metabolic syndrome, it is commonly known as PCOS, or polycystic Ovarian Syndrome.
Before this condition had a name, I just knew that the women in my family had a tendency to gain weight easily, have high cholesterol, excess fat around the hips and other signs of PCOS. Infertility, another indicator, was something I also went through.
Basically, PCOS is a sign of a hormonal imbalance and once it became well-known and was actually studied and considered a valid condition, I was referred to a specialist. After trying some other options, she put me on a medication called Metformin. I took 500 milligrams, three times a day. Metformin comes in both regular and extended release forms but I took the regular form.
Unfortunately, this is the form which has the highest risk of side effects – and oh, did I have side effects! Metformin’s side effects started almost immediately and were pretty severe.
Metformin – side effects
For a list of possible side effects, you can check this page: www.pcos.insulitelabs.com/Metformin-and-PCOS.php but common side effects include diarrhea, gas, bloating, abdominal pain and other intestinal issues. My symptoms were so severe I could hardly leave the house, staying primarily in the bathroom. The pain was a cramping sensation, very intense, followed by major attacks of diarrhea. Sorry to be so graphic, but these were the facts.
There was a minor plus side to taking Metformin. I lost weight and my blood sugar levels were stable. That makes sense because Metformin is used to treat diabetes as well. Also, PCOS (my condition) can result in an increased risk of diabetes and is tied to insulin-resistance. Metformin may stabliize insulin levels. My cholesterol went down and my risk of heart disease might have been lower. Supposedly, women with PCOS are at increased risk of heart disease. I keep a close eye on that.
Metformin side effects worsen
Although I called my doctor immediately, she encouraged me to stay on the medication, noting that some patients got used to the drug. She hoped I’d be one of them. So did I. As time went on, however, Metformin side effects intensified…and new ones entered the picture. I felt nauseous a good share of the time, very similar to the morning sickness I’d had during pregnancy.
The intestinal problems weren’t going away, either. Also, I was just plain exhausted. I chalked this up to dehydration and tried to drink more water. But that only made things worse when it came to Metformin’s effect on my body. Finally, a blood test showed that I was anemic. This was worrisome because I’d always been prone to slight anemia and now it was getting worse! I was told that Metformin can affect B-12 absorption and that lack of B-12 is linked to anemia.
Luckily, I never experienced the worst of Metformin’s side effects. That includes lactic acidosis and liver failure. Lactic acidosis results in serious muscle weakness and fatigue. My muscles were a bit sore but that was mostly due to abdominal spasms. I was also having headaches.
Metformin affected my family life, too
Needless to say, I wasn’t the easiest person to be around while suffering the side effects of Metformin. Not only was I weak and dizzy and tired but I was moody. That may have been due to lack of sleep because I was running to the bathroom so often. Although my family was sympathetic (my son even sat outside the bathroom door and read newspaper stories to me), the side effects were taking their toll.
Dinner was often late or we’d have to eat out. When we did sit down to eat, I often couldn’t stay at the table, let alone get any food to stay in my body. It was just a miserable experience. I was too tired to help my son with his homework and often fell asleep long before my normal bedtime. My entire life seemed to be ruled by my need to be near a bathroom. Even when I went out with friends, I’d have to make sure we were within range of a bathroom -and it had to be nearby!
The situation was getting ridiculous. Finally, I called my doctor and said I couldn’t take Metormin’s side effects any longer. She did some blood tests and soon agreed with me. I’ve been off it ever since. I may still have PCOS but I don’t have an extreme case. I can live with that easier than with the problems from taking this drug.
What to consider before taking Metformin
As with any medical condition, don’t substitute my suggestions for those of a medical doctor or expert. As a general rule, however, people with liver or kidney disease should avoid Metformin. Another contraindication would be repeat or frequent infections, alcoholism or anemia.