Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a common hormonal condition that affects 10 percent of reproductive-age women. Women with PCOS have higher levels of male hormones called androgens, as well as elevated levels of insulin, a hormone that helps regulate blood sugar.
Here are 5 common myths about PCOS and the facts to clear them up:
1. Myth: You Have to Have Polycystic Ovaries to Have PCOS
You'd think that you could go by the name for some clues about the disease, but that's not the case. Frustratingly for some, the name "polycystic ovary syndrome" is a misnomer. Many women who have PCOS don't have cysts on their ovaries, and having cysts doesn't mean you have PCOS.
To be diagnosed, a woman needs to fulfill only two of the three conditions: androgen excess (signs include hirsutism, acne, hair loss), irregular menstruation, or multiple follicles/cystic ovaries.
2. Myth: Every Woman Grows Hair Where She Doesn't Want It
One common symptom of PCOS: hirsutism, which is abnormal hair growth in women. 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.
3. Myth: You Can't Get Pregnant if You Have PCOS
PCOS is a common cause of infertility. The hormonal problem affects the ovary's ability to release an egg to be potentially fertilized for pregnancy. But - and take a deep breath - you can still get pregnant, both naturally or after fertility treatments such as follicle-stimulating drugs.
If you have PCOS and want to start a family, the message here is not to get discouraged if someone tells you it's not possible. Working with a fertility specialist can help you get on the right track.
4. Myth: If Your Menstrual Cycle Is Irregular, You Have PCOS
There are so many causes of an irregular cycle, and PCOS is only one of them. A normal cycle is anywhere from 21 to 35 days. Outside of that, breastfeeding, extreme dieting or over exercising, pelvic inflammatory disease, uterine fibroids, and thyroid disorders are potential causes for a cycle that's out of whack. Stress too can factor in. The lesson: If your cycle is less than 22 days or greater than 34 days long, talk to your ob-gyn.
5. Myth: Every Woman With PCOS Should Go on the Birth Control Pill
Hormonal birth control is a common way doctors treat the menstrual irregularities of PCOS. But the treatment for PCOS will largely depend on your end goal. If you want to get pregnant, you certainly won't go on a birth control pill.
While there may be no magic pill that will make PCOS go away, there is so much under your control. It's up to you to take the healing into your hands.