Gynaecologist busts some common PCOS myths

Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) has become one of the most common hormonal problems in women today. Recent data shows that at least three out of 10 women are diagnosed with it, and six out of 10 diagnosed women are teenagers, said Dr Vaishali Joshi, senior obstetrician and gynaecologist at Kokilaben Ambani Hospital.

“PCOS is a lifestyle disease which involves problems like irregular periods, scanty menstrual flow, acne, excess body hair, weight gain, darkening of skin, along with Polycystic bulky ovaries (PCOD) on sonography and hormonal imbalance including high insulin resistance and excess of male hormones,” she said.

Here’s what to consider about PCOS (Photo: Getty/Thinkstock)

“Many young women get wrongly diagnosed as PCOD instead of PCOS as some symptoms are similar. As such, there are also a lot of myths and facts around PCOS,” she added.

*PCOS happens only in young women in early twenties or thirties: PCOS can happen any time from the age of 18 till the peri-menopause age.

*All women showing with PCOS have PCOD: Polycystic ovaries can be found in 20 per cent of healthy women. At the same time, all women with PCOS do not necessarily have PCOD ovaries on sonography.

*PCOD ovaries give abdominal pain: PCOD ovaries are small (<10mm) size water bubbles (cysts) and are arranged at the periphery of the ovary in a pattern of pearl necklace. They do not give any pain or discomfort. The ovarian cysts which give rise to pain are at least three cm or more in size, which are not found in PCOD.

*Irregular periods and scanty period flow causes weight gain and PCOS: Culturally, menstruation has been considered as a process where unhealthy blood is thrown out of the women’s body. The skipping of periods or decreased flow is believed to prevent this process and leads to the accumulation of fat and obesity. Unfortunately, it is the other way round. The weight gain gives rise to hormonal imbalance and hence irregularity of the periods and development of PCOS, said Dr Joshi.

*PCOS happens only in overweight women: Weight gain is common in women with acquired PCOS due to a bad lifestyle. Almost 80-85 per cent PCOS women are overweight. But PCOS can happen in women with normal bodyweight, particularly those who have family history.

*All women with irregular periods have PCOS: Period irregularity can also occur in thyroid disorders, in hyperprolactinemia, eating disorders, over-exercise induced low hormonal conditions, particularly in long-distance runners.

*Acnes are always due to PCOS: Acne or pimples on the face can be due to various causes. PCOS is one of them. Most common are due to skin problems, allergy, or dandruff.

*Women with PCOS have difficulty in conceiving: PCOS causes anovulation i.e stops the release of an egg every month but doesn’t stop it completely. Women with PCOS have in-consistent and delayed ovulation, but can conceive naturally. Most of the time due to regular skipping of periods they don’t realise they are pregnant, said Dr Joshi.

*Medicines can cure PCOS: Usually drugs are used to treat the symptoms of PCOS depending on treatment necessary e.g, infertility or regularisation of periods. These treatments don’t treat the root cause and hence are not curative drugs. PCOS is a lifestyle disease and the cure is obtained by regular exercises, dietary modifications, and weight loss.

*Losing weight can completely cure PCOS: Unfortunately, PCOS is a life-long disease. A weight loss of at least 10 per cent will result in improvement of symptoms by decreasing hyperinsulinemia and excess male hormones. One needs to continue lifestyle measures and weight loss should be maintained.

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