7 Myths About Polycystic Ovary Syndrome That Need to be Debunked

When I was diagnosed with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) in 2016, I'd never heard of the condition. Despite it affecting one in 10 women in the UK, I wasn't made aware of the symptoms and was left feeling as though I had no control over my body. Whenever I expressed concern to medical professionals, I was always told the same thing: PCOS wasn't something to worry about until I was ready to have a family.

As such, I was left to self-educate myself on the symptoms, but as we all know, the internet can be a confusing place. Despite the hashtag #pcosproblems racking up over two billion views on TikTok, two thirds of women are unable to identify the main symptoms of PCOS, according to Livi, and experts at Fertility Family have issued warnings about misinformation on social media platforms which could have a damaging effect.

"PCOS is a hormonal disorder that causes problems with the release of eggs from the ovaries, which can make getting pregnant more difficult. Polycystic ovaries contain fluid-filled cysts known as follicles, in which eggs develop but usually never mature enough to ovulate. This affects the menstrual cycle, leading to irregular bleeding and problems ovulating, " Dr. Elizabeth Rosen, Lead GP at Livi tells POPSUGAR.

The exact cause of PCOS still remains unknown, but common symptoms include irregular or absent periods, weight gain, excess facial and body hair, anxiety, disordered eating, sleep disturbances, and acne. A lack of information and research on PCOS has led to a number of myths circulating about the condition. Read ahead as we debunk the myths and outline the facts, so that PCOS sufferers can feel supported.

Myth: You Did Something to Cause PCOS

With the condition often overlooked by medical professionals, many sufferers can turn inward and blame themselves for their health issues. "PCOS is still a poorly understood condition and the exact cause is unknown," Dr. Nitu Bajekal, a Senior NHS Consultant Obstetrician and Gynaecologist tells POPSUGAR. "While national and international guidelines recommend lifestyle changes as the first line of treatment (even before medication), women with PCOS often receive very little advice around their diet and lifestyle."

Understanding the science behind the condition could be the first step towards eliminating self-blame for many with the condition. "There isn't one cause for PCOS. It's a complex combination of factors that lead to an expression of PCOS,@ Hannah Alderson, BANT Registered Nutritionist, explains. @Research tells us that it is thought to arise from genetic and environmental factors. These factors interact to cause the features of PCOS to present themselves, so while your actions can worsen symptoms, a PCOS diagnosis is definitely not the sufferer's fault."

Myth: PCOS Only Affects Overweight Women

One of the hormonal imbalances associated with PCOS causes insulin resistance, which can in turn lead to weight gain and difficulties losing weight. This does not, however, mean all PCOS sufferers are overweight. "Some people with PCOS are underweight or normal weight, others find weight is gained easily," Dr. Becky Mawson, GP at The Lowdown, says. For those who are overweight, most experts will suggest losing weight as a positive lifestyle change which can improve symptoms, the reality is that PCOS comes in all shapes and sizes. "Victoria Beckham, Daisy Ridley, and Jools Oliver have all spoken out about their struggles with PCOS but they might not look like the typical PCOS picture," Alderson shares. "It is a spectrum after all, meaning, it's a condition and not a disease."

Myth: PCOS Sufferers Should Go on the Pill

PCOS can't be cured, but symptoms can be managed by making positive lifestyle changes. Presently, there are no medications available to help women manage their symptoms, and because PCOS is a hormonal condition, many medical professionals see it fit to put their patients on the Pill. But a one-approach-fits-all strategy doesn't work for everyone. "I recommend having an open and honest discussion with your doctor about all the potential risks and benefits of the Pill before you reach a decision. Although oestrogen-progesterone oral contraceptives (COCPs) appear to be the most useful of all medical treatments, it's important to explore all of your options with a medical professional," Dr. Bajekal says. For women with PCOS that want to start taking contraception, The Lowdown's guide on the Best Contraception for PCOS will tell you everything you need to know.

Myth: You Can't Get Pregnant if you Have PCOS

A big worry for women with PCOS is that they won't be able to get pregnant, but this is certainly not definitively the case. While the condition is one of the most common causes of infertility, it is possible to get pregnant naturally or with the help of fertility treatments such as IVF. "Some women who have PCOS ovulate while others do not - this depends on the type of PCOS you have. There are also other hormonal factors involved too such as progesterone being needed in the second half of the cycle," Dr. Sohere Roked, GP and Functional Medicine and Hormone Doctor explains. As with most PCOS symptoms, making lifestyle changes is always advised as this can improve both body composition and insulin resistance, which helps with fertility. "If you are trying to conceive with PCOS, seek medical help if you haven't got pregnant within six months of regular unprotected sex," Dr. Bajekal adds.

Myth: PCOS Can't Be Treated

PCOS can't be cured but it is possible for sufferers to live a symptom-free life. "Once you identify your drivers, you can start to work on creating a better environment for your sex hormones. This can be done by improving insulin sensitivity as well as reducing inflammation and stress. You should then start to see an improvement in symptoms," Alderson says. Some of the lifestyle changes Dr. Bajekal mentions in her book Living PCOS Free include eating a diet rich in plant foods, moving your body regularly, prioritising sleep, and adopting mindfulness and meditation practices to manage your stress levels. "Treatment for PCOS should always be tailored to the individual and their specific needs," Dr. Mawson explains.

Myth: PCOS Will Make You Hairy

Not all women with PCOS will have an overabundance of facial and body hair. Excess hair is actually caused by high levels of androgens (a group of hormones) that are present in the body. Androgens are produced by both men and women, however, some women with PCOS may have elevated levels of the hormone. "In women with PCOS who have elevated androgen levels, it is very common to see excess hair in typically male areas - chin, face, back, chest and lower stomach," Alderson says.

The medical term for excessive facial and body hair is called hirsutism. While the Pill or androgen blockers can be used to suppress androgen levels, it can take up to six months to see any changes. "When considering short and long-term treatment options to remove facial and/or body hair, do keep in mind that some methods may be more expensive than others and may not deliver the results expected. With PCOS, everyone responds differently to their symptoms," Dr. Bajekal says.

Myth: PCOS Is Painful

For women with PCOS who have cysts on their ovaries, they don't actually cause any pain. "There may be other coincidental causes of pain in PCOS such as painful periods, pelvic infections, endometriosis, or an ovarian cyst and treatment for these will depend on the underlying cause," Dr. Bajekal says. If you are experiencing persistent pain, Dr. Bajekal advises against assuming it is because of PCOS and seeking medical advice immediately.

For additional help and advice with PCOS, please contact the PCOS Awareness Association or Verity.