10 myths about PCOS
There are some common myths surrounding the condition of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome. There is no “cure” for PCOS but there are ways that you can be helped depending on your symptoms. I thought I would clarify things by debunking those I hear the most:
I would know if I had PCOS.
It’s not always obvious if you have PCOS. It is true that some women have obvious symptoms but Polycystic Ovary Syndrome is also known for its wide range of (sometimes vague) symptoms. These include:
- Absent or irregular periods
- Increased body hair growth typically on the upper lip, chin, neck, chest, upper and lower abdomen, arm and inner thigh (hirsutism)
- Thinning hair or scalp hair loss
- Oily skin, acne on your chest, back, and face
- Skin tags—small flaps of excess skin—on your neck and armpits
- Darkened, sometimes thickened patches of skin on your neck, armpits, or groin, or under your breasts
- Weight gain or obesity – often around the waist
- Depression and mood changes
- Symptoms such as snoring and excessive daytime sleepiness which may be suggestive of obstructive sleep apnoea
- Reduced fertility
As other conditions have similar conditions it can be tricky to diagnose and for this reason PCOS is a “diagnosis of exclusion”
PCOS only affects women in their 30’s and beyond
PCOS does not discriminate based on age. It was once thought that the condition only affected pre-menopausal women in their 30s and beyond. However it is now generally recognised that the condition can affect women of all ages including young adolescent girls.
All women with PCO have PCOS
Whilst 20% of women worldwide are found to have polycystic ovaries, less than half of these have the syndrome called PCOS.
PCOS is diagnosed when at least 2 of the following are found:
- Symptoms suggesting high levels of testosterone (excess hair growth or acne) or irregular periods
- Blood tests indicating elevated testosterone levels
- Polycystic ovaries on an ultrasound scan
I’m not planning a family so it doesn’t matter if I don’t ovulate
Ovulation plays a key role in female health. If you don’t ovulate each month, your body is deprived of a vital hormone called progesterone. This means you may be more susceptible to oestrogen dominant conditions like fibroids, breast cancer and endometriosis.
All women suffering from excess hair and irregular periods have PCOS.
Adrenal conditions such as Cushing’s syndrome or late onset congenital adrenal hyperplasia (21-hydroxylase deficiency) also present with these symptoms, so it can be wrongly diagnosed.
All women with PCOS are overweight
Many women with PCOS are overweight, but thin women can have PCOS as well so don’t discount the possibility if you have signs and symptoms of PCOS. It is true that only 5% to 10% of thinner women with PCOS will experience irregular menstruation.
I’ve heard I won’t be able to lose weight if I am overweight with PCOS
It’s true that it’s likely to be more difficult to lose weight but it’s certainly not impossible. However this is not just about calorie counting - PCOS affects insulin production, so a change in diet is an important factor to get insulin levels under control (see my previous blog post about the ideal PCOS diet). Regular exercise and sufficient sleep are also beneficial. There is an increase in risk of developing type 2 diabetes so these lifestyle measures are important for your long-term health.
Women with PCOS have less bone strength.
Your bone strength is not reduced by PCOS and in fact may even be increased as there is a high oestrogen and testosterone production.
I have PCOS , I’m not going to be able to get pregnant
Conception may be more difficult but, depending on the severity of your PCOS, some women are able to become pregnant with no assistance, many more need minor assistance and some will need IVF. Once you get a clear understanding of your PCOS you can work with your Doctor in terms of deciding what sort of help you may require.
PCOS goes away when you're pregnant
Whilst PCOS symptoms may be milder during pregnancy, the condition has no cure. Since the disease can pose a risk to pregnant women with an increase in risk of high blood pressure or gestational diabetes you should be carefully monitored throughout.
Although every effort is made to ensure that all health advice on this website is accurate and up to date it is for information purposes and should not replace a visit to your doctor or health care professional.
As the advice is general in nature rather than specific to individuals Dr Vanderpump cannot accept any liability for actions arising from its use nor can he be held responsible for the content of any pages referenced by an external link