September is Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) awareness month, and the perfect time to bust some of the most common PCOS myths and misconceptions out there.
It absolutely astounds me how even in 2020, women’s health is so often dismissed, and even common health conditions like PCOS are so hugely misunderstood, even by some medical professionals.
Now, it’s worth noting that I myself am not medically qualified, nor am I an expert in PCOS. Having said that, I have throughout my own experience of the condition done a great deal of detailed research and will always strive to make sure the facts I present are as accurate as possible!
So, without further ado, here are 7 of the biggest PCOS myths (and the truth, of course!)
- PCOS means a person has cysts on their ovaries. This is definitely one of the most common PCOS myths out there, and it is an understandable one! Unfortunately, the name “Polycystic Ovary Syndrome” is a little misleading, as PCOS does NOT involve ovarian cysts. The “cysts” in question are actually not cysts at all – they are underdeveloped egg sacs (follicles) that accumulate on the ovaries when ovulation does not occur. Here is a great article that explains the difference between PCOS follicles and ovarian cysts really well!
- To have PCOS you must have polycystic ovaries. Leading on from the previous myth, you would think that having these excess follicles is required for a diagnosis of PCOS. This is absolutely not true – in fact, only around 20% of people with PCOS actually have polycystic ovaries (don’t quote me on this because I can’t find my reference, but the percentage is low!) In the UK, PCOS can be diagnosed if a person shows any two of these three symptoms: clinical or biochemical signs or hyperandrogenism (excessive ‘male’ hormones), signs of infrequent or no ovulation (characterised by infrequent/no menstruation) or polycystic ovaries. When I was diagnosed, for example, I satisfied the first two of these three criteria.
- PCOS is rare. Absolutely not! PCOS is one of the most common endocrine disorders affecting women of reproductive age, and it is estimated that 2.2-26% of people with female sex organs have it. PCOS is incredibly underdiagnosed, hence the uncertainty in the actual prevalence of the condition.
- PCOS is inconsequential. There are a range of potential consequences of PCOS if it is not diagnosed or managed correctly. For example, PCOS is the leading cause of infertility and for 75% of people with a female reproductive system who struggle with infertility due to a lack of ovulation, PCOS is the underlying cause. From a fertility point of view, people with PCOS are also at a significantly higher risk of a range of pregnancy complications, including miscarriages. PCOS also increases the risk of a variety of other health issues, including endometrial cancer, sleep apnoea, cardiovascular disease, metabolic disorders and type 2 diabetes. The good news is, PCOS can be managed effectively and these consequences can usually be avoided! It’s important to note here too that the vast majority of people with PCOS can, with the right support, successfully have children (if they want to).
- PCOS can be treated. Although PCOS can be effectively managed through healthy lifestyle choices and in some cases medications such as metformin, it cannot be ‘cured’. What is effective in managing PCOS varies vastly from person to person, and there really is no ‘one size fits all’ approach.
Unfortunately, PCOS is still highly misunderstood amongst both the general population and even some medical professionals. If you suspect you may have PCOS, make sure you seek medical help and go in knowing exactly what to expect.
If you are unlucky enough to encounter someone who is not understanding of your symptoms, do not be afraid to seek a second opinion. This happened to me, and although it was difficult to stand up for myself after being dismissed, if I hadn’t I would never have got the diagnosis and answers I so desperately needed.
You know your body, and you are well within your rights to seek a second (or third, or fourth) opinion when you know in your heart that something is wrong.