Common Misconceptions about Poly Cystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS)
As mentioned in my previous blog, PCOS is highly prevalent, with between 9-18 percent of the female population being diagnosed with it, depending on the criteria used. There is growing debate as to whether this statistic represents the real level and it is increasingly evident that more research is needed to better understand the complex set of PCOS symptoms.
From my practice, I see varying degrees of PCOS ranging from asymptomatic ( ie some hormonal imbalance but good skin and normal menstruation ) to mild symptoms ( such as irregular periods and moderate acne) to more severe ( abnormal facial hair growth, stubborn weight gain, persistent cystic acne and irregular periods). So, a diagnosis of PCOS for one patient may mean something quite different to another patient with the same diagnosis. This is why it is crucial to understand the specific drivers of PCOS in an individual, and ensure treatment is patient focused, not a one shoe fits all approach which can often be the case.
Some of the misconceptions about PCOS explained –
- The name PCOS can be misleading as not all women with PCO have cysts on their ovaries and it is not just a condition of the ovaries. There are calls for a renaming of the condition – eg Metabolic reproductive syndrome.
- PCOS should not involve pain.
- Teenage girls should not be diagnosed with PCOS until 6-8 years after their first period as up to 80% of teen girls exhibit multiple cysts on their ovaries which can be mistaken for PCO. Also, many of the symptoms of PCOS are also evident as part of puberty – eg irregular periods, pimples and changes in body shape.
- Similarly, women who come off the contraceptive pill can take some time to re-establish hormonal balance and during this rebalancing phase can exhibit signs of PCOS with elevated androgens, amenorrhea or irregular periods. This is also not PCOS but can mimic it for a period of time.
- PCOS is not diagnosed by ultrasound alone and many women can exhibit multiple follicles which are a temporary event and not PCOS.
- A big myth that worries a lot of women is you cannot fall pregnant with PCOS. This is not the case and although for some PCOS women there may be some degree of difficulty falling pregnant, the good news is statistics show they have the same number of children as women without PCOS.
- Another misconception is that if you have irregular periods you will have PCOS. This is not the case, as other factors such as stress, thyroid imbalance, excessive exercise and weight loss as well as pelvic inflammatory disease can all affect the rhythm of the menstrual cycle. It is also important to note that a normal cycle can range anywhere between 21 and 35 days (not just 30 days).
- It is not acceptable to be told not to worry about PCOS until you want to fall pregnant. As it is a set of symptoms that affects both the hormones and the way the body metabolises sugar, it is important to address the underlying factors involved early on, in order to avoid a deterioration of the condition over time. Diet and exercise are vital from the onset in order maintain a healthy state and reduce the risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease in the longer term.
So, the take home message is PCOS is not the same for everyone and there are things you can do now to help yourself address the underlying factors driving your specific set of PCOS symptoms. If you would like more information about how Naturopathy can help please contact Kathleen.