Polycystic ovary syndrome, or PCOS, has finally made its way into the public consciousness — a fact that has many women feeling relieved that even if they’re still suffering from the symptoms, at least now others believe they actually have the condition in the first place. While the hormonal disorder affects 10% of women and is the leading cause of infertility, it’s only within the last decade or so that doctors have acknowledged its existence and are willing to diagnose their patients with it. Still, symptoms of this condition are often attributed to other causes and may go undiagnosed.
Even now, research is underfunded and there are a lot of misconceptions about the condition, including its own name; some women with PCOS don’t develop ovarian cysts, and yet some women do when they don’t have PCOS. And while the disease got some major attention recently on the popular show This Is Us, some viewers felt the storyline may have actually cemented certain myths about the condition — namely, that it’s often unfairly tied to being overweight.
Some data suggests that nearly 80% of women who have PCOS are obese, but research points out that correlation doesn’t determine causation. PCOS is more closely linked with hormones and insulin levels than it is with someone’s weight, although reducing one’s blood sugar levels may cause a patient to reduce their risk for PCOS and their weight overall. Doctors suggest that all women, including those with PCOS, should fit in 2.5 hours of aerobic exercise per week to promote a healthy lifestyle and control their weight. For those who may be at risk for developing PCOS or worry about health conditions relating to blood sugar levels or weight, it may be a good idea to invest in some cardio equipment (one of the two types of exercise equipment one can buy) or sign up for some classes at their local gym.
So how exactly can you determine whether you might have PCOS? There are typically three main markers of the disease, which include period irregularities (e.g., absent periods, prolonged periods, or unpredictable periods); ovarian cysts; and increased levels of male hormones, which can lead to thin hair, excess body hair, or acne. While nearly 85% of people have experienced acne at some point in their lives, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say that if you experience two or more of these hallmarks, you should see your doctor to determine whether PCOS is to blame. That said, PCOS symptoms vary widely from person to person, which means you might not experience a lot of the telltale signs yet you still may have PCOS.
It’s extremely important to find out for sure as early as possible, experts say, because the condition can have huge ramifications for long-term health. It’s a major risk factor for high blood pressure and heart disease, as well as diabetes. It may also have a huge effect on your ability to get pregnant — and if you do, you could also develop gestational diabetes in the process. While those who seek chiropractic care during pregnancy experience an average of 31% shorter labor times, women with PCOS who develop gestational diabetes risk much more than back pain. In fact, they may experience complications such as preterm birth, jaundice, newborn respiratory issues, and delivery problems. Many of these factors can be mitigated if both the PCOS and diabetes are monitored and treated carefully, but that’s improbable without a definitive diagnosis. On top of that, women with PCOS — if they are able to become pregnant — have higher risks of preeclampsia, miscarriage, and the need for a C-section.
While PCOS isn’t necessary debilitating, the reality is that it can disrupt your life in many ways. For too long, women were dismissed when they’d visit their doctor complaining of symptoms. But now, many are hopeful that today’s improved understanding of the condition will allow many to find both answers and relief.