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Debunked: 4 Myths About Polycystic Ovary Syndrome

Photo credit: iStock/Portra

Photo credit: iStock/Portra

Despite 2 out of 15 women exhibiting Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, there’s quite a bit of misinformation circulating about the syndrome. To combat this and acquire some physician-vetted answers, we reached out to Anuja Dokras, MD, PhD Director of the Penn Polycystic Ovary Syndrome Center at Penn Medicine and President of the Androgen Excess and PCOS Society. Here, she debunks four popular myths about PCOS. 

  1. It’s difficult to diagnose. According to Dr. Dokras, it’s not the criteria that makes a diagnosis challenging, it’s the route. She notes, “Depending on [which] doctor has the first introduction, it becomes confusing. If it’s a gynecologist or a specialist in PCOS like myself, then it is easy, [but] it could be a pediatrician [or] a dermatologist because [the patient] has acne and maybe weight gain.” Because the varying symptoms can lead patients to seek out a variety of specialists, it may take longer than usual to identify PCOS. Meanwhile, the criteria are relatively straightforward: irregular period, excessive hair growth or high male hormones, and a ‘typical PCO” appearance of the ovaries on an ultrasound.
  2. Only adult women get PCOS. Women of all ages can develop PCOS. However, age may make the syndrome appear differently. For instance, Dr. Dokras explains, “A young girl could have slightly different symptoms because it’s common to have an irregular period when you’re young. Somebody has to sort that out: is it PCOS or normal puberty? PCOS looks different in an adolescent; it looks different in a middle-aged woman, and it looks different around menopause.”
  3. PCOS only affects women physically. As mentioned, the criteria for a PCOS diagnosis are largely physical, but Dr. Dokras notes that mood and anxiety disorders are also commonly associated with PCOS, with about 30 percent of these women exhibiting them. To ensure their PCOS patients are properly supported, Dr. Dokras says specialists need to screen their patients for mood and anxiety disorders and she makes a point to discuss the disorders with them as well.
  4. PCOS makes it difficult to get pregnant. “It’s a little bit of a paradox,” says Dr. Dokras, “If you do an ultrasound, the ovaries of women with PCOS have lots and lots of follicles which mean they have lots of eggs. So if you do the fertility test, which is an AMH blood test, it’s high which would tell me they have high fertility.” For some, the problem occurs when they don’t get a period every month (a common PCOS symptom), but irregular periods aren’t the case for everyone with PCOS. Dr. Dokras explains, “If it’s a PCOS patient who has a regular period, then she should have no problems getting pregnant because she actually has more eggs in the ovaries.” Instead, it’s other factors — like being overweight and other chronic issues — that may complicate fertility.

In fact, one of Dr. Dokras’ most recent studies published in November addressed weight loss prior to helping patients with PCOS get pregnant. She explains, “We completed a study where we put one third of the women on birth control pills for four months, one third of the women went through weight loss treatments, and one third on a combination. And the combination [group] lost about 7% of their weight, and their pregnancy rates were much higher than the group that had no weight loss treatment and was just on birth control for the four months and then starting the treatment for fertility.” For women with PCOS who do struggle with fertility, this provided Dr. Dokras and other specialists promising data about the relationship between excess weight and infertility.

For more information about Penn Fertility Care, click here.