8 Myths About Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS)

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Polycystic ovarian syndrome, or PCOS, is a collection of symptoms associated with an imbalance in reproductive hormones. This hormonal imbalance can lead to symptoms like weight gain, thinning of the hair on the head, heavier growth of hair on the face and torso, acne, and irregular menstrual cycles. Although PCOS is frequently discussed in relation to fertility, lots of inaccurate information about PCOS is conveyed as fact. Below we will take a look at some of the most common misconceptions about polycystic ovarian syndrome.

PCOS Myth #1: PCOS is rare.

Actually, it is estimated that about ten percent of women of childbearing age in the United States meet the diagnostic criteria for PCOS! Many of these women haven’t even been diagnosed. Personal health is a sensitive topic, and a diagnosis of PCOS may be difficult or painful for a woman to share, particularly if she is struggling to conceive. Thus many women are not comfortable talking about their diagnosis openly. But odds are that you know more than one person who is affected by PCOS.

PCOS Myth #2: Patients with PCOS have lots of cysts on their ovaries.

It would be easy to draw the conclusion that with a name like “polycystic ovarian syndrome,” PCOS would involve lots of cysts on the ovaries. In reality, PCOS is poorly named. The hormone imbalances involved in PCOS can cause changes in the ovaries, typically women with PCOS have a greater number of ovarian follicles than their age matched counterparts. Ovarian follicles are normal, and no treatment or surgery is needed.  Women with PCOS are not at greater risk of developing cysts. 

PCOS Myth #3: All women with PCOS are overweight. You can’t have PCOS if you are thin.

Although undesired weight gain is one of the hallmark symptoms of PCOS, nearly one third of women with PCOS are not considered overweight or obese. Lab work should be performed to assess for hormonal imbalances if other symptoms are present, because PCOS patients in a healthy weight range can still have other difficulties. And regardless of a patient’s body size, PCOS patients can benefit from healthy eating practices and adding more movement to their routines.

PCOS Myth #4: PCOS can be diagnosed through blood testing alone.

Because PCOS is caused by an imbalance in reproductive hormones, many patients believe that blood tests Unfortunately nothing about medical diagnosis is that simple. Although bloodwork is a vital part of the PCOS diagnosis, the process is much more thorough than that. Diagnosing PCOS involves a comprehensive physical examination which includes laboratory testing and pelvic ultrasound. Your provider will also take a detailed medical and menstrual history.

PCOS Myth #5: Irregular periods mean that you have PCOS.

PCOS can, and often does, cause irregular menstrual cycles due to problems with ovulation. But there are lots of other things that could be causing irregular cycles as well, so consultation with a medical professional is essential! If your menstrual cycles are longer than about 35 days, bleeding is significantly lighter or heavier than normal, or you experience spotting between periods, talk to your healthcare provider to determine the cause.

PCOS Myth #6: Oral contraceptives cure PCOS.

Oral contraceptives are frequently prescribed for PCOS, and they can help control symptoms and regulate your cycle. Birth control pills can play a role in the treatment of PCOS. However, these are not a cure. If you are trying to conceive, however, other options that are more in line with your goals can be utilized. Work together with your doctor to make a plan that is right for you.

PCOS Myth #7: A diagnosis of PCOS means I need to follow a specific diet.

Despite the popularity of the gluten-free and keto diet plans, you don’t need to try these diets to control PCOS symptoms. The Mediterranean diet is a balanced eating approach that is commonly used for PCOS, and includes foods that are rich in antioxidants, folate, and vitamin D. (These nutrients can all positively contribute to hormone regulation.) A Mediterranean diet includes minimally processed, whole foods. This means choosing fresh fruits and vegetables, fish, nuts, and including healthy fats such as avocados and olive oil. Limiting simple carbohydrates, as well as including lots of leafy greens, is also an integral part of the Mediterranean diet.

PCOS Myth #8: PCOS makes it impossible to get pregnant.

A large percentage of women diagnosed with PCOS may seek assistance to conceive with a medication like Clomid or letrozole. If you are attempting to conceive with a partner, both of you should be evaluated despite your PCOS diagnosis. The lifestyle modifications mentioned above may also help alleviate unwanted symptoms and gently encourage your body toward hormone regulation, which can lead to a higher chance of conception. Our integrative fertility practices combine traditional medicine, alternative therapies, and lifestyle practices, giving you access to the “best of both worlds” in your journey.

Do you have any of the signs and symptoms of PCOS, such as irregular menstruation, thinning hair, acne, or weight that can be difficult to regulate? Contact us today to schedule a consultation with Dr. Salem to discuss your fertility treatment options including IVF!

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