PCOS Knowledge Bank

Facts and Myths about the PCOS Syndrome

7 Mins read

You can’t get pregnant if you have PCOS. Only women who are obese get PCOS. You must have done something to cause it. PCOS is a rare condition. 

Nope, nope, and nope! 

People who have shared these and any other astounding-sounding notions about PCOS are sure to get embarrassed later on when they find out that the information they spread was flat-out wrong.

With that said, it’s time to debunk all such misconceptions, inaccuracies, and myths about PCOS that have been circulating for years.  

According to Mayoclinic, PCOS (Polycystic Ovary Syndrome) is a common hormonal disorder in women of reproductive age. A woman with PCOS might have excess androgen (male hormone) levels or prolonged or infrequent menstrual periods. 

The ovaries might develop multiple tiny collections of fluid (or follicles), failing to release eggs regularly. 

Polycystic Ovary Syndrome

Myth 1: PCOS is a Rare Condition

That’s so not true. According to the estimates of womenshealth.gov, nearly 5% to 10% of women in the U.S. of reproductive age now have PCOS, which is equivalent to 5 million women approximately.  

With that figure, PCOS is certainly not a rare condition. Instead, it falls under common hormonal endocrine disorders. Also, PCOS often goes undiagnosed, which means that millions of women are unaware that they actually have this condition. Surprisingly, this condition is also the primary cause of fertility or ovulation problems in 70% of women.

Myth 2: You have PCOS if Your Menstrual Cycle is Irregular

That’s not true either. Irregular periods could be due to multiple reasons and it doesn’t necessarily mean that you have PCOS. A normal cycle occurs anywhere between 21 and 35 days but above that, extreme dieting, overexercising, breastfeeding, uterine fibroids, thyroid disorders, and pelvic inflammatory disease are possible causes a menstrual cycle is out of whack. 

Besides these, stress is another major factor that can’t be ignored. So if your cycle is above 34-days or within 22 days, there could be an underlying problem and it’s vital to consult your ob-gyn. He or she might suggest an exam and run additional tests if required (perhaps, a blood test to check your thyroid levels) to identify the underlying cause.

Myth 3: You can get rid of PCOS if you lose weight

According to Penn Medicine, the association between PCOS and weight is about the body’s failure to utilize insulin properly, which, in turn, can lead to obesity or weight gain. However, PCOS affects every body type — all sizes and shapes.

Unfortunately, there’s no cure for PCOS and you might not be able to fully overcome it, but you can certainly bring down your blood sugar levels. Lifestyle changes like regular exercising, healthy eating, and maintaining a healthy weight will improve the way the body utilizes insulin, regulating the hormone levels better. Even a 10-15% weight loss can improve ovulation and insulin sensitivity!

Myth 4: You Must Have Done Something to Cause PCOS

Even today, the real cause of PCOS is not known but here’s the thing: nobody is to blame. There are multiple reasons behind — including genetics — is said to play a key role. Besides that, androgens (male hormones) are the actual culprits. 

Every woman produces androgens in little amounts but those diagnosed with PCOS produce more than normal, preventing ovulation and making it hard to have menstrual cycles regularly. The follicles develop but the eggs don’t get released. When ovulation doesn’t occur, the follicles become cysts. When this happens, the body fails to generate progesterone, the much-needed hormone to ensure regular cycles. 

In addition, women with PCOS produce more estrogen (female hormones). Though this doesn’t contribute any symptoms, long-term “unopposed estrogen” may lead to a build-up on the uterus lining, which happens to be one of the prime risk factors for uterine cancer. 

Lasly, genetics also has a role to play. Women whose sisters and mothers have PCOS are highly likely to have this condition, too.

Myth 5: You Can’t Get Pregnant if You Have PCOS

PCOS is one of the common causes of fertility and the hormonal issue affects the ovary’s capability to release an egg to fertilize for pregnancy. But with that said, not getting pregnant due to PCOS isn’t true for all women.

You can still get pregnant, both naturally or post fertility treatments. Speak to your doctor about it. There are a number of medications that can help stimulate ovulation to fight the main issue which women with PCOS go through. 

On the other hand, if you have PCOS and aren’t trying to get pregnant, do not assume that you are in the clear. Though it’s definitely hard to get pregnant when you have PCOS, most women ovulate intermittently and that’s why it’s vital to use contraception.


Myth 5: A Firm PCOS Diagnosis is a Long Journey

This PCOS myth is actually true. Getting a proper PCOS diagnosis might be a long journey and that’s why it is vital to listen to your body and try to advocate for yourself. If we have to put that out short and sweet: Be a diva while speaking to your doctor.

Be honest with your doctor, Tell them every little symptom that you have and be not embarrassed. Every doctor has a different approach to treating PCOS symptoms, so it’s important to speak your heart out. 

Also, be assertive while asking for your lab tests. The more details you and your gynecologist can gather, the faster you’ll reach the root cause of the symptoms, helping the doctor to develop an effective PCOS treatment plan.

Myth 6: PCOS is Just a Disease of the Ovaries

No, not at all. Don’t fall for the disease name and assume things in your head. It’s definitely not the case. Sadly, for some people, the term “polycystic ovary syndrome” turns out to be a misnomer. 

Not all women with PCOS have tiny cysts in their ovaries. Understand that cysts are only a PCOS symptom and not a cause. They can trigger hormonal imbalances but cysts, in themselves, are generally harmless. Also, PCOS cysts are quite different from the ovarian cysts that develop, rupture, and give rise to pain.

David A. Ehrmann, director of the University of Chicago Center for PCOS in Illinois, says that many women with PCOS do not have cysts on their ovaries and even if cysts exist, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s PCOS. 

PCOS = ovary with multiple cysts. That’s why in the medical world, there’s a push to get PCOS renamed to ‘reproductive metabolic syndrome,’ putting the focus on what is essential: the reproductive and metabolic abnormalities which are the key reasons for the disease. 

For diagnosis, a woman has to fulfill any two of these three conditions (JCEM): 

  • Excess androgen (signs: acne, hair loss, hirsutism)
  • Irregular menstruation
  • Multiple cystic/follicles ovaries

PCOS myths

Myth 7: You Need Ultrasound to Diagnose PCOS

Well, not always. It all comes down to how worse your symptoms are. When you see your doctor, they will ask you multiple questions about your PCOS symptoms, your menstrual and medical history to perform a physical exam. 

If PCOS might be present, the doctor might also ask questions about your entire health history, including social history, family history, and surgical or medical history.

They will recommend a test to check hormone and sugar levels in the blood. The hormones that healthcare providers typically check for are: thyroid hormone, testosterone, and prolactin. Only if required, they recommend performing a pelvic ultrasound (or sonogram) of your uterus and ovaries to understand the level of the condition better.

Myth 8: PCOS Only Affects Overweight or Obese Women

It’s true that women who have PCOS are obese or overweight. And it is also true that being overweight can worsen the symptoms of PCOS but that doesn’t mean only obese women are susceptible to PCOS. In fcat, PCOS can affect women of all sizes and shapes. 

As said earlier, the connection between PCOS and weight is due to the body’s inability to utilize insulin properly. This, in turn, leads to weight gain and that’s why cultivating healthy eating habits and daily exercising is vital as part of the treatment plan. 

Myth 9: PCOS Women have Unwanted Hair Growth and Acne

Some women with PCOS experience the growth of facial hair but others don’t. It all depends on the body’s androgen levels. The higher it is, the higher is the hair growth, which affects every woman differently. So not everyone with PCOS will have unwanted hair growth.

Myth 10: PCOS Can’t be Cured

PCOS can be effectively managed and treated. Exercise, healthy diet, and lifestyle changes have a huge impact in managing and preventing PCOS. Limiting sugars and carbohydrates in the daily diet, quitting smoking and alcohol can help you to control PCOS. Also, weight loss by just about 3-5% can decrease testosterone (or male hormones) by 21% and even women might resume their regular ovulation. 

Final Words

Facial hair, low mood, acne that won’t go away, unexplained weight gain and fertility issues: symptoms of PCOS can easily raid one’s self-esteem and make someone feel like a stranger in their own body. 

If that wasn’t enough, the PCOS myths lead to a greater stigma, adding more stress to the existing stress and most importantly, misunderstanding things to a large extent.

If you doubt that PCOS might be affecting you, it’s vital to discuss it with a GP, understand what you could do to ease the symptoms, and indulge in healthy eating.



Is PCOS lifelong?

The problem with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is if it is left undiagnosed can turn into a serious lifelong problem. 

What does PCOS do to your body?

Some of the most common signs of PCOS are irregular or missed periods, acne, infertility, weight gain, and missed periods. In certain severe cases, it may also lead to type 2 diabetes, heart issues, and high blood pressure. 

At what age does PCOS start?

While PCOS is not dependent on age, it is usually indicated when the person has trouble getting pregnant. However, PCOS is often observed at an age as young as 11 years old. 

Can I get pregnant with PCOS and regular periods?

Since PCOS releases male hormones – androgens which interfere with ovulation, it is often difficult to get pregnant. However, with right medical advice and lifestyle changes, it is possible to get pregnant but it’s not dependent on age. 

Does stress cause PCOS?

Stress is a silent killer and often one of the main causes of PCOS. However, a professional opinion will offer better insight into the cause.

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