Despite how common polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is, it is still frequently misdiagnosed today.
We've personally lost count of the number of women we've spoken to who have been misdiagnosed with PCOS. Did you know that just having polycystic ovaries does not make you PCOS positive?
Let’s unpack it together.
According to John Hopkins Medicine, PCOS is a condition whereby the ovaries produce an abnormal amount of androgens, also known as male sex hormones. Women also have those hormones, but in much smaller quantities. The name is derived from the numerous small cysts (fluid-filled sacs) that form in the ovaries. However, to be diagnosed with PCOS, women need to exhibit more than just the cysts on their ovaries – more on that later.
Ovulation occurs when a mature egg is released from an ovary to be fertilized by a male sperm. If the egg is not fertilized, it is released out of the body during your period.
In some cases, a woman doesn’t make enough of the hormones needed to ovulate. When ovulation doesn’t happen, the ovaries can develop many small cysts. These cysts lead to an increase in androgens. This can negatively impact a woman’s menstrual cycle, among other symptoms.
1 in 10 women have PCOS. However, the World Health Organization estimates that up to 70% of affected women remain undiagnosed worldwide. It typically affects women in their reproductive years, starting in their teens or early 20s and continuing through their 40s.
You need to have two out of these three symptoms to be correctly diagnosed with PCOS:
Note that there are also several other factors and conditions that can mimic PCOS symptoms, such as stress, hormonal contraceptives, obesity, thyroid issues, over-exercising, and disordered eating.
Some women with this disorder do not have cysts, while some women without the disorder do develop cysts. That’s why you need to have at least two of the three symptoms listed above to be correctly diagnosed with PCOS.
The exact cause of PCOS is still not fully understood, but insulin resistance and genetic factors are believed to play a role.
Many women with PCOS have insulin resistance. As insulin levels build up in the body, they may cause higher androgen levels.
PCOS may also run in families. It's common for sisters or a mother and daughter to have PCOS.
Treatment depends on several factors, like your age, symptoms, overall health, and whether you want to become pregnant in the future. This can include diet changes and medications to alleviate symptoms. In some cases, birth control pills may be prescribed to regulate your hormones.
It’s important to note that taking hormonal contraceptives won’t cure PCOS. They may help manage your PCOS symptoms, but they can only do so much.
Hormonal contraceptives, like birth control pills, work by regulating your menstrual cycle and hormone levels. They can help in managing irregular periods, reducing excess hair growth, and managing acne, which are common symptoms of PCOS. However, once you stop using these contraceptives, it's likely that your symptoms may return.
Open communication with your healthcare provider about your treatment options is key. Don’t be afraid to ask questions to make sure you understand all the risks associated with a certain option.
If you are concerned or suspect that you may have PCOS, we urge you to consult with a medical expert. Your doctor can provide an accurate diagnosis, personalized advice, and a tailored treatment plan that suits your specific needs.