According to an article in the South African Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology published in 2012, Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) affects 15-20% of women in their childbearing years and is also linked to 40% of female infertility cases in South Africa.
That was in 2012. Imagine the statistics a decade later.
PCOS is a complex metabolic and hormonal disorder affecting the balance of female sex hormones (estrogen and progesterone), insulin, and androgens. This in turn results in the presence of small cysts and or growths observed in the ovaries.
The cysts in polycystic ovaries actually refer to immature egg cells, termed follicles, that have never developed into mature egg cells due to the syndrome’s hormonal imbalance.
As a result, menstrual cycles may be irregular and ovulation may be erratic, or not triggered at all, making the process of planning and falling pregnant a tricky affair.
Last year, News 24 reported that nearly eight million Southern African women are affected by PCOS. And yet it’s not that widely spoken about and there still tends to be a lot of confusion around the topic as a whole.
So to start the conversation, let’s talk about these 5 most common PCOS myths:
You’ll know for sure that you have PCOS
With common symptoms like mood problems, weight gain, acne, and irregular periods, it’s pretty easy to come up with an entire chart of diagnoses and causes, like stress.
In fact, this is one of the reasons PCOS is often missed or left undiagnosed, according to Wijnland Fertility. Some women simply don’t see it or only realise it when they try to become pregnant.
If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, it’s best to visit a gynecologist, PCOS specialist, or endocrinologist to get to the root cause.
You have to have polycystic ovaries to have PCOS
While this tends to be the case in many women’s experiences and the name does seem to allude to that, this is actually a misnomer. There have been cases where women with cysts don’t have PCOS and, likewise, women without cysts have had PCOS.
According to Life Healthcare, other non-cyst-related PCOS symptoms in general are:
- Irregular or no period
- High testosterone resulting in acne and/or hirsutism (unwanted male-pattern hair growth on a woman’s face, limbs, chest, and or back.
- weight gain or difficulty losing weight.
- anxiety and/or depression
If you have PCOS you can’t fall pregnant
This isn’t true for everyone. The keyword here is that PCOS makes things slightly tricky, not impossible. There are a number of methods that can stimulate ovulation – one of the main issues women with PCOS face – naturally, such as using medication or fertility treatments.
“I can’t tell you how many women are told that they will never get pregnant,” says Amy Medling, certified health coach, founder of PCOS Diva, and author of Healing PCOS: A 21-Day Plan for Reclaiming Your Health and Life With Polycystic Ovary Syndrome.
Medling says that at age 18, doctors told her they’d have to “jump through hoops” for her to become pregnant. But with the help of fertility treatments, she had her first two boys and conceived her third child, a girl, naturally. “Women can and do get pregnant,” she says.
If you have PCOS and are struggling to conceive, the main thing is to not get discouraged. Contacting a fertility specialist may be a great option. Alternatively, cupping and acupuncture have also been a great help with fertility, according to many testimonials from women.
Only overweight women are affected by PCOS
This is the most common misconception. PCOS does not discriminate and can affect women of all shapes and sizes.
According to Medical Nutritional Institute, approximately 70% of women with PCOS are overweight or obese. However, even women at an ideal weight can have PCOS, purely due to androgen hormones or insulin resistance.
The relationship between PCOS and weight has little to do with weight itself and much to do with the body’s inability to use insulin properly, which can lead to weight gain. This is why getting into the habit of exercising regularly, eating healthy, and taking supplements such as inositol, zinc, selenium, and vitamin D is highly recommended in most women’s treatment plans.
Contacting a dietitian (bonus if they specialise or have lots of experience with PCOS) is a great way to remove that feeling of being overwhelmed when trying to create a treatment and lifestyle modification plan.
It’s just as easy for women with PCOS to lose weight
It’s true that losing a modest amount of weight — five to ten percent, to be specific — can help regulate your menstrual cycle, according to Wijnland’s Dr Candice Morrison. But it’s not always easy.
Many women with PCOS will express that they eat less and exercise more than everyone else they know, and yet the weight still sticks. It’s not always that they can’t lose weight but it’s that weight loss is more complicated than simply calories in vs calories out.
According to VeryWell Health, PCOS can make your body resistant to insulin, causing your pancreas to make more of the hormone. That extra insulin promotes fat storage and increases hunger, which can cause weight gain.
Oftentimes, PCOS also affects other hormones that regulate hunger and fullness.