The Biggest Myths About PCOS

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Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) is the most common endocrine disorder among women of childbearing age, yet is highly overlooked by health care providers. Part of the reasons why PCOS doesn’t get the attention it deserves is because the condition is not well understood.

Here are 5 of the biggest myths about PCOS.

1. Women With PCOS Have Cysts on Their Ovaries

While the name poly “cystic” ovary syndrome refers to cysts on the ovaries, this is far from being accurate. Instead, tiny immature follicles surround the ovaries, appearing like a strand of pearls on an ultrasound. These follicles are the result (and not the cause) of an imbalance of sex hormones which inhibit follicles from maturing and being released to be fertilized. The follicles resemble cysts but the two are entirely different.In addition, not all women with PCOS have follicles on their ovaries, another myth about the condition. 

Many feel the name of PCOS is misleading and contributes to the challenges in getting more women diagnosed. A new name for PCOS has been proposed to one that doesn’t focus so much on cysts or ovaries, but rather on the metabolic aspects women with PCOS are likely to experience.

2. You Can’t Have Children

PCOS is the main cause of ovulatory infertility but that doesn’t mean women with the condition can’t have children at all. The truth is, the majority of women with PCOS can conceive on their own or with the help of fertility treatments. Diet and lifestyle changes are the primary treatment approach for PCOS and following a healthy diet along with regular physical activity or weight loss can improve ovulation. New advancements in fertility treatments for women with PCOS are now available such as the use of letrozole as an alternative to Clomid for ovulation induction.

3. It’s Impossible to Lose Weight

It is harder for women with PCOS to lose weight but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to do so. If you are exercising and following a healthy diet and are struggling to lose weight, chances are you are insulin resistant. Try mixing up your workouts to include more resistance training to surprise your muscles. Changing up your diet by eating a variety of foods, focusing on protein and only small amounts of grains, fruits, or starchy vegetables at meals can also help. Consider working with a registered dietitian nutritionist who specializes in PCOS to help you make changes to your diet. Lastly, inositol or using insulin-lowering medications such as metformin or Victoza may help with weight loss when accompanied by a healthy lifestyle.

4. You Must Take Metformin

Although not indicated for treating PCOS, the popular diabetes medication known as metformin is widely prescribed to women battling PCOS. Metformin helps to reduce glucose and insulin levels and for some women, can improve menstrual regularity. For many women, however, metformin can cause unpleasant GI side effects such as nausea and diarrhea.

Thanks to new advancements in treating PCOS, there are more options for women with PCOS than metformin. Newer insulin-sensitizing medications can help manage insulin. Nutrition supplements such as inositol and n-acetyl cysteine (NAC) have also been shown to be effective to improve insulin in PCOS.

5. Birth Control Pills Are the Only Way to Regulate Periods

Traditionally, women with PCOS who were experiencing irregular or absent menstrual cycles were instructed to take oral contraceptive medications. These birth control pills can regulate periods but are only a band-aid for treating PCOS. Women who decide to stop taking them to start a family or other reasons discover that their periods are still irregular.

Long-term use of birth control pills are associated with health risks such as increased risk of blood clots, increased cholesterol, and inflammatory levels possibly increased insulin and can affect the absorption of vitamin B12.

It is possible for women with PCOS to restore a regular menstrual cycle without the use of oral contraceptives. Weight loss, a healthy diet, exercise, and Myo-inositol have been shown to be effective ways to do so.

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Article Sources

  • Diet, exercise boost ovulation in PCOS. Clinical Endocrinology News.

  • Bozdag G1, Yildiz BO. Combined oral contraceptives in polycystic ovary syndrome - indications and cautions. Front Horm Res. 2013;40:115-27.
  • Legro R. Impact of Metformin, Oral Contraceptives, and Lifestyle Modification on Polycystic Ovary Syndrome in Obese Adolescent Women: Do We Need a New Drug? J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2008 Nov; 93(11): 4218–4220.