Myth-busting: truths about PCOS

Although polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a common health condition, affecting about 8% of women, there are still plenty of myths floating about when it comes to symptoms, such as infertility, weight and excessive hair growth

by Miss Lisa Webber | 11th Feb 2022

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Ahead of our next webinar on PCOS, as part of our ‘Let’s Talk Periods’ series, Miss Lisa Webber (pictured above) Consultant Gynaecologist and Subspecialist in Reproductive Medicine, cuts through the misinformation surrounding this neglected condition.

Women with PCOS will be unable to conceive

One of the most common symptoms of PCOS is irregular or absent periods, which means that ovulation, the release of an egg, is less often than normal. If an egg is not released, this means it cannot be fertilised by sperm, which prevents pregnancy.

But, reassuringly, with fertility treatment, most women with PCOS are able to get pregnant.

Fertility medicines can help when trying to conceive, such as clomifene (Clomid) or letrozole, which encourages ovulation. If clomifene or letrozole are unsuccessful, injections of the hormone FSH (follicle stimulating hormone) may be recommended. Sometimes a tablet called Metformin may be recommended.

If fertility medicines don’t work, a simple surgical procedure called laparoscopic ovarian drilling may be recommended to help with ovulation, which is done under a general anaesthetic.

PCOS is a rare condition

PCOS is a very common condition, affecting about 8% women. Symptoms usually appear in the late teens, early twenties or after weight gain. It usually runs in families and is common for sisters or a mother and her daughter to have the condition, although their symptoms may vary.

Losing weight will get rid of PCOS

PCOS makes it very easy for women to gain weight and this, indirectly, makes all of the symptoms worse. There is currently no cure for this condition, but it is possible to manage the symptoms with lifestyle changes and treatments. Losing weight, exercising, and eating a healthy and balanced diet can make a huge difference.

PCOS

All women with PCOS will have excessive hair growth

Excessive hair growth, known as hirsutism, is a common symptom of PCOS. Due to excess androgens - also known as 'male hormones' - unwanted hair can grow on the face, back, chest and bottom. But not every woman will experience this, and symptoms vary in severity between women. Some women only experience menstrual problems, oily skin, acne, or have irregular or no periods.

You must have an ultrasound to be diagnosed with PCOS

If you have symptoms, or have concerns, it is worth speaking to your GP. Doctors will look for at least two of the following for a diagnosis of PCOS:

  • irregular or no periods
  • raised levels of testosterone, as shown on a blood test or by the presence of acne
  • polycystic ovaries on an ultrasound scan

Only two of these need to be present to diagnose PCOS, so you will not necessarily have an ultrasound to confirm the diagnosis. It can be normal for women to have polycystic ovaries – approximately one in five women will have these on an ultrasound scan – but this does not necessarily mean they have PCOS. A doctor will usually arrange a blood test to exclude other causes for symptoms.

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If you would like to find out more about PCOS, our expert Miss Lisa Webber will be speaking about the condition at our next ‘Let’s Talk Periods’, on Thursday 17 February, between 12-1pm. Registration is open and tickets can be booked on this link.

For further information about PCOS, head to our information page.