As a gynecologist, I frequently deal with patients who suffer from PCOS/PCOD or polycystic ovarian syndrome. The gynecological disorder is widespread, affecting an estimated 1 in 5 Indian women, but despite the high prevalence of the condition there is little awareness about what PCOS actually is.
Most patients start to panic with a diagnosis of PCOS because they are aware of its association with infertility, but many of their fears are unfounded. While PCOS does affect quality of life, the condition can be managed effectively if you have the right knowledge and good medical care. I’d like to shed some light and unveil the truth about the condition by dispelling some common myths about PCOS.
Most Common Misconceptions About PCOS
Myth 1 – If You Have PCOS, It Means You Have Ovarian Cysts
“The name is perhaps confusing and has given rise to this myth, but it actually means that you have a lot of unruptured follicles in the ovaries, which look like cysts in ultrasounds”
This is not true, as PCOS refers to a group of symptoms, not necessarily to the formation of ovarian cysts. The name is perhaps confusing and has given rise to this myth, but there are different classifications of PCOS and the term actually means that you have a lot of unruptured follicles in the ovaries, which look like cysts in ultrasounds – hence the name. This is also why your tests may not even reveal anything resembling cysts, but you could still have PCOS. Besides, there are other conditions in which cysts develop in the ovaries, but that does not mean a person has PCOS.
Myth 2 – Pregnancy With PCOS Is Impossible
“While concerns about infertility are valid, if you adhere to the treatment and make appropriate diet & lifestyle changes, there is scarcely any reason why you will not get pregnant”
This is the biggest fear in most patients and it causes considerable anxiety among women, which is why many PCOS patients also require counseling at the time of diagnosis. While concerns about infertility are valid, it is not true that women with PCOS can never conceive. If you get an early diagnosis, adhere to the treatment prescribed by a good gynec, and make appropriate diet and lifestyle changes, there is scarcely any reason why you will not get pregnant.
Myth 3 – PCOS Can Be Cured
“PCOS is like having to wear spectacles – you wear them all your life to keep your refractive error in check, but wearing glasses doesn’t cure you of the refractive error. Similarly, PCOS requires constant treatment, which will be modified from time to time as the symptoms may wax and wane ”
You have probably come across unscrupulous doctors and practitioners of alternative medicine who promise to cure PCOS, but their claims are simply not true. PCOS is like having to wear spectacles – you wear them all your life to keep your refractive error in check, but wearing glasses doesn’t cure you of your refractive error. Similarly, PCOS requires lifelong treatment, which will be modified from time to time as the symptoms may wax and wane. While this may be disheartening, the truth is that although PCOS is incurable, it can be managed effectively with lifestyle modifications and treatment. Studies have shown that even moderate weight loss can have an alleviating effect on the condition, lowering testosterone levels that otherwise cause excessive hair growth, and helping regularize menstrual periods.
Myth 4 – Once I Get Pregnant My Worries Are Over!
“Women afflicted with PCOS need to be doubly careful with their health and checkups because there is a risk of some pregnancy complications, but your doctor can easily monitor and manage the condition”
While getting pregnant means that you’ve overcome the battle with infertility, PCOS still remains problematic to some extent as it does not mean that PCOS has been cured. There are certain health concerns in pregnancy with PCOS because there is a risk of some pregnancy and delivery complications, which your doctor can easily monitor and manage. This means that it is doubly important for PCOS afflicted women to be careful with their health and checkups. Obesity associated with PCOS can also contribute to pregnancy problems, but if the mother’s health is carefully monitored throughout pregnancy however, there is not much to worry about and the child will be healthy.
Myth 5 – PCOS Only Poses A Threat During Reproductive Years
“PCOS affects women during the childbearing years, but the condition has a life-long effect, predisposing you to hypertension, heart disease, and diabetes later on”
Although PCOS affects women during the childbearing years, the condition has a life-long effect, predisposing you to hypertension, heart disease, and diabetes later on. However, with adequate care, the risks can be easily monitored and managed, so there is not much to worry about. Obesity associated with PCOS also increases the risk of such conditions, which is why losing weight and following a healthy lifestyle makes such a huge difference in patient outcomes.
Myth 6 – Infertility Is the Only Major Complication
“Studies have shown that there is a risk of some types of cancer like endometrial cancer, with one report even suggesting that the risk may be three times higher for women with PCOS”
Infertility is just one possible complication that can be easily dealt with. Studies have shown that there is also a risk of some types of cancer like endometrial cancer, with one even suggesting that the risk may be three times higher for women with PCOS, as irregular or absent periods results in thickening of the endometrium over time. Some studies suggest that there may also be a marginal increase in the risk of ovarian and breast cancer, but more research is needed to conclusively establish this link. Keep in mind, that the risk of such complications is marginal for most women, unless PCOS has remained undiagnosed for years or if treatment is not followed properly.
Myth 7 – Birth Control Pills Can Cause PCOS
“This couldn’t be further from the truth, because these pills are actually used to regularize periods and can also help to control other symptoms”
This couldn’t be further from the truth, because one of the treatments used for the syndrome is in fact birth control pills. They are used to regularize periods and can also help to control other symptoms like acne and hair loss. Birth control pills are hormonal medications, with a combination of estrogen and progestin, or progestin only. The fluctuating levels of these hormones help to regulate the natural menstrual cycle, but this does not happen in the case of PCOS, making such medications necessary.
Myth 8 – PCOS Will Ruin Your Sex Life
“The truth is most PCOS patients don’t have any deficiency in their sex drive, but certain drugs used to treat PCOS-related facial acne and hair growth can lower testosterone levels, reducing sex drive temporarily”
This is again completely untrue as there is no deficiency in sex drive when you have PCOS. It only affects your sex drive if you are on certain medications to control acne and hair growth on your face, which may be anti-testosterone, which may temporarily lower your sex drive. If this is a problem, however, you can talk to your doctor about it, as the problem can be easily resolved.
Now that we’ve cleared the air, there should be better understanding on what you need to do to cope with PCOS. While the condition certainly does impair your quality of life to some extent, with adequate knowledge and good medical care, most of the risks of complications can be easily mitigated. The important thing to remember is that PCOS does not mean your life stops; it simply means that you need to be more mindful of it.