Updated: Mar 9
Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) is a common health condition among women that affects hormone levels. Meaning, androgens that are male sex hormones and are found less in women are produced in abnormally high amounts in women with PCOS.
The main features of PCOS include:
Enlarged ovaries that contain follicles up to 8mm in size
High amounts of androgens which make facial and body hair grow in excess
Periods that are irregular or completely absent
If you experience at least two of the symptoms above, it could mean that you have it. Other signs of PCOS to look out for are:
Problems in trying to get pregnant
Difficulty to lose weight, especially around the waist
Hair noticeably getting thinner or hair loss
Acne breaking out
Painful and/or heavy periods
Pea-sized boils and lumps where skin rub against each other
Let’s try to understand this condition better! Here are the 10 facts about PCOS that you may not know.
1. PCOS is one of the most common hormonal and endocrine disorders.
The numbers don’t lie. If you have it, you are not alone. PCOS affects approximately 116 million women worldwide, according to the World Health Organization. That is 3.4% of women all around the world who are of childbearing age!
2. The exact causes of PCOS are currently unknown.
Doctors and researchers only know the causes for PCOS symptoms but they have not found out the exact cause for PCOS. However, evidence points to genes that run in the family. If someone in your family has PCOS, chances are you also have it.
3. There is no single test for PCOS
To diagnose PCOS, your doctor will have to run several tests and determine your symptoms before identifying a clear diagnosis. Your PCOS diagnosis may consist of blood and imaging tests, physical exams, and a pelvic ultrasound. This process usually takes time and can even be a source of frustration but it’s necessary to rule out other conditions.
4. Women with PCOS have a high likelihood of developing sleep apnea.
Sleep apnea is a breathing disorder that occurs when you sleep. Your breathing is interrupted with stops and starts which may potentially be dangerous. Penn Medicine explains that the likelihood of developing sleep apnea in women with PCOS is higher compared to women without PCOS. Moreover, for women with PCOS, sleep apnea can make other PCOS symptoms worse like high blood pressure, tiredness, mood swings, weight loss difficulties, and insulin resistance.
5. The high levels of testosterone in women with PCOS make it easier to build muscles compared to women without PCOS.
Duke University says that women with PCOS can gain muscle mass and size more rapidly compared to women without PCOS because they have higher levels of testosterone. Moreover, the muscle strength of the former is greater but their tendency to have more excess accumulated fat in the abdominal area is higher as well.
6. Losing weight with PCOS is harder.
Doctors often prescribe women with PCOS to lose weight which might not be the best solution! It can cause weight gain and it can be hard to lose weight with PCOS. This is because the body can become insulin resistant which causes the pancreas to produce more hormones. The extra insulin in the body encourages fat to be stored, causing hunger to increase. Then, the high insulin levels make it difficult to lose weight.
7. A higher prevalence of eating disorders is reported in women with PCOS compared to those without
Frustrations from weight gain and being unable to lose weight contribute to the urge of women to go for extreme diets. They may lose weight but it tends to come back when the diet is not sustainable. Hence, it becomes too late for them to realize that they have fallen into a cycle of diet-binge.
8. Making sustainable lifestyle changes can be more effective for women with PCOS that have a support network.
You might ask how to lose weight with PCOS. Weight loss, for one, can effectively be carried out with a lifestyle commitment of a nutritious diet and physical activity. Making changes to your habits may be hard and may cause sudden dietary decisions. However, if you have a strong support network of health professionals, family, and friends, then making lifestyle changes may be more sustainable. If you could find a community that shares your experience, they will be able to understand your struggles and can give real advice from their lived experiences. If you have PCOS and haven’t found a community for you yet, you can check out the Womb Warrior Community here and the amazing support it can offer you!
9. When you have PCOS, your risk for diabetes increases.
Researchers found that women with PCOS have higher risks for type 2 diabetes (T2D). Findings further revealed that the average age for women who are diagnosed with both conditions was 31 years old. Those with PCOS have insulin resistance which is associated with T2D. Taking Metformin for PCOS can aid in relief of insulin resistance as it improves the body’s sensitivity to insulin and enables the body’s cells to use up glucose readily available within your system.
10. The age of menopause for women with PCOS is 2 years later than women without it.
A study shows that women who have PCOS go through menopause a few years later compared to those women who don’t have it. However, it is possible to experience symptoms of PCOS and menopause altogether. Risks of life-long health issues are also increased beyond menopause such as risks for cardiovascular diseases, arterial hypertension, and T2D.
Receiving a diagnosis of PCOS may be scary at first but it doesn't mean you can't live a full and healthy life. You can manage your symptoms, make regular visits with your healthcare provider, and have a community that understands.