- Dr. Christa O'Leary
Myths about PCOS: What You Should Know
Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) is a very common condition that affects millions of women worldwide. While some people believe they have all the answers about PCOS, it's important to remember that there are many myths and misconceptions out there too. If you struggle with PCOS, there's hope! In this blog post, we'll discuss several myths about PCOS and what you can do to use the truth to your advantage.
Myth #1: You Have to Have Polycystic Ovaries to Have PCOS
The name "Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome" is misleading. You might think that you could go by the name for some clues about the disease, but that's not true.
Many women who have PCOS don't have cysts on their ovaries, as the name might lead. And, having cysts doesn't mean you have PCOS. When called PCOS, the focus is on the ovary having cysts. There is an ongoing push to have PCOS rebranded, or "reconceptualized" as the "reproductive metabolic syndrome." The new name would put more focus on the root of the disease: The metabolic and reproductive abnormalities that most women experience.
A woman usually only needs to exhibit two of three conditions to be given a PCOS diagnosis: 1) androgen excess (signs include hirsutism, acne, and hair loss), 2) irregular menstruation or 3) multiple follicles/cystic ovaries.
Myth #2: Every Woman Grows Hair Where She Doesn't Want It
A common symptom of PCOS many women experience is hirsutism, namely the growth of excessive amounts of hair due to androgens. Women with PCOS may have excess hair in many areas, but not every woman will exhibit these symptoms. However, not all unwanted hair is a byproduct of PCOS. Some patients are predisposed to having darker hair in certain areas due to their ethnicity. Some women with PCOS may not even experience hirsutism at all.
Myth #3: PCOS Causes Infertility
Women with PCOS can get pregnant without the intervention of fertility treatments. However, the hormone imbalance associated with PCOS affects ovulation, making it more difficult to get pregnant due to abnormal ovulation cycles. But take a deep breath, because you still can get pregnant! You can conceive naturally or via follicle-stimulating medication.
Few women are properly educated about PCOS and often receive a gloomy forecast when it comes to starting a family. For people with PCOS who hope to start a family, don’t get discouraged if someone tells you that it won’t happen. If you want to get pregnant, working with a fertility specialist can help you to get on the right track.
Myth #4: If Your Menstrual Cycle Is Irregular, You Have PCOS
Although PCOS can cause irregular periods, there are many other reasons why your cycle may not have been regular. Breastfeeding, dieting or overexercising excessively, pelvic inflammatory disease, uterine fibroids, and thyroid disorders are all potential causes for an out-of-balance cycle. You may also experience irregular menstruation cycles if you're under a lot of stress.
Overall, if your cycle is less than 22 days or greater than 34 days long, talk to your OBGYN. Through a physical exam and by running additional tests as necessary, your doctor can identify the likely cause.
Myth #5: If You’re Not Looking to Get Pregnant, You Don’t Have to Worry About PCOS
PCOS is not just about fertility; it can also impact a woman’s overall wellness! It has been linked to type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and poor cholesterol levels. It is also linked to other conditions such as depression and anxiety, sleep apnea, and endometrial cancer. Diagnosis and treatment for Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome can be life-changing.
Myth #6: Everyone With PCOS Is Obese or Overweight
There’s a misconception that individuals who have PCOS are always overweight, but this isn't necessarily the case. The thing is because PCOS is a syndrome, it affects people in many different ways. That said, it’s more common to be overweight or obese. The risk of using weight as a gauge is twofold: Thin women might commonly be overlooked and an obese woman with irregular periods might be inaccurately diagnosed with PCOS.
Myth #7: Women With PCOS Can Lose Weight Like Anyone Else
Losing a modest amount of weight (7%) can indeed help regulate your menstrual cycle and offset the risk of diabetes development. But it isn't always easy. Many women with PCOS will express that they exercise more, eat less than everyone else they know, and still retain the weight despite their efforts to lose it.
Oftentimes PCOS patients can lose weight, and they have done so by utilizing dietary and weightless programs successfully in the past. What is clear, though, is that the idea of calories in versus calories out is oversimplified. We know now that weight loss is more complicated. For example, the gut flora may be different in women with PCOS, which can play a role in metabolism. Your doctor must understand these factors, rather than sending you home with a prescription to diet and get off the couch. (And if they do, you might want to consider finding a new provider.)
Myth: PCOS Causes Weight Gain.
The metabolic changes that accompany Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) make weight gain a very common side effect of the syndrome, but it's not caused by the condition itself. People with PCOS have an increased sensitivity to insulin and are more likely to be overweight. Insulin resistance causes the body to produce even more insulin, which adds to increased hunger, higher blood pressure, and putting on those pesky pounds.
Myth: You’ll Know for Sure if You Have PCOS
Common symptoms women experience with PCOS are acne, mood problems, and irregular periods. It can be extremely easy to chalk these symptoms up to other causes, like stress. And because they're so common, the root cause goes undetected. Between 50 and 70 percent of women with PCOS are undiagnosed. And even worse, PCOS isn’t always symptomatic. Not every doctor is well educated about the syndrome. If you’re experiencing these symptoms, it’s best to work with both an OBGYN and endocrinologist to get to the root cause.
Myth: PCOS Is a Life Sentence for Feeling Bad
While there’s no cure for PCOS, there is a lot of hope you will feel better. While many doctors say there is no cure, you can continually be in a healing process that brings your body into balance. There isn't a magic pill or a one-size-fits-all solution that will make PCOS go away. But there is so much under your control, and we can develop a game plan that neutralizes your symptoms. You can take the healing into your hands.
Think you might have PCOS? Ready to handle it the natural way? Give us a call to book an appointment with our team today.