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September marks Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) Awareness Month. The aim of PCOS Awareness Month is to:

  • help improve the lives of those affected by PCOS
  • help PCOS patents manage their symptoms
  • prevent and reduce their risks for life-threatening related diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease and cancer.

PCOS is a health condition that affects one in ten women of childbearing age. Women with PCOS have a hormonal imbalance and metabolism problems that may affect their overall health and appearance. It is also a common and treatable cause of infertility.

Signs and symptoms of PCOS include:

  • Irregular periods
  • Reduced fertility
  • Unwanted facial or body hair
  • Oily skin/acne
  • Thinning hair or hair loss from the scalp (alopecia)
  • Weight problems
  • Depression and mood changes.

Women suffering from PCOS sometimes have a hard time opening up about it and the plethora of side-effects that accompany it. In some cultures, women can suffer from body-shaming and even discrimination. On top of that, there are myths that surround the condition that are unhelpful to women with the condition.

Here are six that deserve to be dispelled:

Myth 1: You can’t get pregnant with PCOS

Although PCOS is a common cause of infertility, a diagnosis of PCOS does not automatically mean that you can’t get pregnant. In fact, many women with PCOS do get pregnant naturally or with the help of fertility treatments.

Myth 2: Everyone who has PCOS is obese

Although PCOS is associated with being overweight, lean women with PCOS are not uncommon. The risk of the myth is that thin women can be overlooked in terms of a diagnosis of PCOS, and also that overweight women with irregular periods can be inaccurately diagnosed with the condition.

Myth 3: Women with PCOS can lose weight like anyone else

Actually, it’s not as easy as that. With PCOS, the idea that weight loss is simply ‘calories in versus calories out’ is oversimplified.

Dr. David Ehrman, Director of the University of Chicago Center for PCOS in Illinois said, “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.”

With this in mind, it’s important that doctors understand this and don’t just send PCOS patients home with a prescription to diet and get off the couch.

Myth 4: Every woman with PCOS should go on the pill

Doctors often use hormonal birth control to treat the menstrual irregularities of PCOS. However, the treatment for PCOS will depend on the goals of the patient. For instance, if the patient is hoping to conceive the birth control pill will be inappropriate. Another problem is that the pill can mask symptoms, so some health professionals advise women to address their hormonal health initially with lifestyle measures, like reducing stress and adopting an anti-inflammatory diet.

Myth 5: You have cysts on your ovaries to have PCOS

To have a diagnosis of PCOS in the UK, you need to have two out of three of the following:

  • Increased numbers of cysts/follicles on the ovaries
  • Irregular or absent menstrual cycles
  • Raised androgen (male hormones).

So, it is clear that you can have PCOS without seeing cysts on a scan.

Myth 6: All women with PCOS are hairy

Hirsutism can be a common symptom of PCOS. Because of excess androgens, women with PCOS can sprout unwanted hair on their upper lip, chin, or chest. But not every woman will have this symptom and a lack of excess hair should not preclude a diagnosis of PCOS.

For a condition that is so common, it is concerning that so many unhelpful myths have sprung up around it. Hopefully, initiatives like PCOS Awareness Month will help to positively change erroneous public perceptions of the condition.

Please click here for help and information on PCOS.