Did you know that it takes an average of 5 years for a woman to be diagnosed with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS)? Yes, an average of 5 years! Crazy don’t you think? However, there are a lot of misconceptions regarding PCOS which might explain why it can take so long.
So today we will talk about five common misconceptions regarding PCOS with the hope that we can get more women accurately diagnosed sooner.
5 Common misconceptions about PCOS
PCOS misconception no.1 – You must have ovarian cysts to have PCOS.
Wrong!!! You actually don’t need to have ovarian cysts to be diagnosed with PCOS. I know, it even contradicts the name of the disease. Because of the name polycystic ovarian syndrome, we are led to believe that you have to have ovarian cysts to be diagnosed with PCOS but that is not the case. Because of this, there is a lot of controversy regarding the name as it can very easily lead to confusion.
The presence of ovarian cysts can be one of the criteria to make the diagnosis but necessarily the only one.
To be diagnosed with PCOS you must meet 3 of the 4 criteria’s below:
- Irregular menstrual periods
- Ovarian cysts
- Clinical evidence of elevated androgens (hirsutism, acne, hair thinning)
- Chemical elevation of androgens in the blood
See, you can still be diagnosed with PCOS even if you don’t have Ovarian cysts provided you have the other three conditions.
PCOS misconception no.2 – You must be overweight or have obesity to have PCOS.
Wrong again! Women of average weight can also have PCOS and many times this misconception leads to undiagnosed PCOS slipping through. Many doctors miss the diagnosis of PCOS in average weight patients as they are expecting PCOS patients to also be overweight.
While obesity and PCOS go hand in hand most of the time, obesity is NOT part of the criteria to be diagnosed with PCOS. You can still have PCOS and be average weight.
PCOS misconception no.3 – You can’t get pregnant if you have PCOS.
While PCOS is the number one cause of infertility, many patients with PCOS can still achieve a normal and healthy pregnancy. There are ways of treating PCOS which in turn will help with fertility. The fact that PCOS is the number one cause of infertility though is another very important reason why we need to diagnose PCOS much earlier. Earlier diagnosis means we can give women with PCOS the opportunity of pregnancy.
PCOS misconception no.4 – PCOS only affects your sexual and female health.
I really wished this was true but unfortunately it’s not. PCOS affects much more than just your sexual and female health. For example, having PCOS puts you at risk for developing type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome and cardiovascular disease.
Even though we still don’t know the exact cause of PCOS we do know that there is insulin resistance and/or elevated insulin levels. Because of this, if left untreated it can lead to metabolic diseases as Type 2 diabetes. Again another reason we need to diagnose early.
PCOS misconception no.5 – Only young women can have PCOS
Nope, PCOS can occur at any time from puberty and the first time you get your period through to the last time you have your period which is menopause. And on both ends of this spectrum, PCOS might go undiagnosed as we may not be completely aware of our menstrual period regularity at those times. Because of those period irregularities, most women get diagnosed with PCOS when they decide they want to get pregnant and discover that they can’t.
There we’ve got it, the 5 most common misconceptions about PCOS, hopefully, you’ve learned something new today. If any of the symptoms of PCOS sounds like you remember you only need to meet three of the four criteria’s to be diagnosed. And maybe your doctor needs to be reminded of that too if you’ve been unsuccessful in getting a diagnose.
If you have been diagnosed with PCOS then our series on how to manage PCOS would be great reading!
We want you to take control of your health, always. And to do this we want to give you the tools and knowledge to be able to do that.
This post is written by Dr Rocio Salas-Whalen, CMO at hormona and double board-certified physician in Endocrinology and Obesity Medicine. Currently, Dr Salas-Whalen practices in her own private office in New York City. Dr Salas-Whalen is a strong woman’s health advocate through all periods of a woman’s life. She has a strong interest in improving the quality of life of women going through some hormonal dysfunctions. Including PCOS, infertility, thyroid disease, obesity and menopause to name a few