Living With PCOS: Part II

pcos comparison 1It’s a fact: the experience of being diagnosed with PCOS is incredibly stressful. You have to grapple with irregular periods, symptoms like excess hair, and the threat of insulin abnormalities, not to mention other emotional and psychological side effects like depression.

But this fact can be compounded by a whole lot of fiction, namely, the myths that circulate about what PCOS is, how to treat it, and what a life with PCOS can entail. Although upwards of one in twenty women have  PCOS, there’s still a staggering amount of misinformation out there.

Anna-Marie, a Welsh journalist, outlines the particular toll this takes on her:

I’ve read so much over the years, trying to find out a little bit more about my condition, and I’m always left feeling confused or frustrated. There’s statements and uneducated assumptions on these forums and websites that don’t quite add up or make sense to me personally when I think about myself and what I have to deal with.  There’s a lot out there to do with PCOS and a lot is far from the truth.

So what kinds of statements are leading people like Anne-Marie to feel “confused and frustrated”? Well, we can narrow those down to three main myths.

Myth 1: You’re All Alone

This is perhaps the most harmful PCOS myth out there because it leads to feelings of isolation, depression, and increased anxiety.

It’s also one of the most outlandish—it couldn’t be further from the truth. If you’re diagnosed with PCOS, you’re joining an estimated 5–10% of the female population. That’s a lot of women just like you.

And reaching out to other women with PCOS—whether you’re commiserating on a PCOS Reddit or swapping treatment tips on a forum like the hilariously-named SoulCysters—can work wonders when it comes to making you feel less alone.

Because you’re not alone. You’re part of a group.

Myth 2: You Have PCOS Because You’re Overweight

Nope.

Fat-shaming has no place anywhere, but especially not in terms of PCOS. This condition isn’t discriminatory: it can affect slim women, curvy women, fat women, muscular women—all women.

Here’s the truth:

  • PCOS can lead to weight gain and obesity, but only in approximately one half of women.
  • Getting fit can help manage the symptoms of PCOS if you’re overweight. Losing 5–10% of your body weight can aid in tweaking insulin abnormalities and getting your ovulation back on a regular track. But the key word here is can. Weight loss—especially if you’re not overweight to begin with—is not a magical cure-all.
  • Losing weight will not cure PCOS. There is, effectively, no cure for PCOS. While you can manage the symptoms of this condition, you’re not going to reverse it and become magically PCOS-free.

Is getting more exercise and eating more nutritiously a good idea when you have Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome? Absolutely. These are great habits, and shedding pounds when you’re overweight or obese and PCOS-diagnosed can make a world of difference.

But we want to confront the myth that being overweight somehow contributes to having PCOS because it’s a particularly toxic one. This myth suggests that your lifestyle plays a role in your diagnosis, and that’s just not true. As we discussed in our first post, the causes of PCOS are still unknown, but it’s most likely a condition that develops due to hormone levels.

Myth 3: PCOS = Infertility

Here it is: the #1 myth surrounding PCOS.

It’s because of this myth that so many women feel bereft, depressed, and anxious when they get their PCOS diagnosis. Especially for women who yearn to start a family, this myth can feel like their dreams are being shattered.

Here’s the reality: having a baby when you have PCOS isn’t always out of the realm of possibility.

We want to tread carefully here, because PCOS can have a huge impact on fertility. The condition causes problems with ovulation, after all. But there are medications that can treat a lack of ovulation, especially in women who aren’t obese.

Here are a couple of ways that your doctor can help you conceive:

  • Clomiphene is a drug that causes one or more egg to be released from the ovaries. It triggers ovulation in about 80% of women with PCOS, and of this 80%, about 50% become pregnant.
  • And if you can’t become pregnant with clomiphene? Don’t worry, there’s also gonadotropin therapy. These injections trigger the follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) that we discussed in our last post. (link) The result? Around 60% of women who use gonadotropin therapy get pregnant.

Does knowing the realities behind these pervasive myths change the fact that living with PCOS can be a frustrating struggle? Not at all.

But arming yourself with accurate knowledge—especially against misinformation that would have you believe that you’re isolated, that you’re somehow to blame for your condition, or that you have to give up hope of getting pregnant—can go a long way in alleviating a bit of that frustration.