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PCOS, otherwise known as Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, affects between 4 and 12 percent of women of reproductive age, with less than 50 percent getting diagnosed. Unfortunately, even though this disease has some severe effects and is a growing concern for women, little is known about the syndrome, and is not always taken seriously by the medical community. To help spread awareness and gain more funding for research, the National Polycystic Ovary Syndrome Association has declared September PCOS awareness month. In honor of the PCOS Association’s mission and the awareness month, here are five things you should know about this complicated disease.

What is it? 

PCOS is caused by imbalanced reproductive hormones. When the hormones are balanced within a woman, her ovaries can produce an egg and release it into the fallopian tubes to wait for fertilization. This does not always happen for a woman with PCOS. Women with PCOS may not develop their eggs to maturity or release an egg for ovulation. This is why a common symptom for PCOS women is an irregular or missed period. While no one is a big fan of that time of the month, every woman must have a period. If not, cysts can develop on the ovaries or can lead to infertility.

What Causes It?

What exactly causes PCOS is still unknown, but doctors have narrowed it down to two things: high levels of androgen and high insulin levels. Androgens, also known as “male hormones,” are what control the development of male traits. PCOS women have more androgens than usual and are what prevent women from having a consistent period. This also leads to two symptoms of PCOS, excessive hair growth and acne. 


The other cause, high insulin levels, also prevents women with PCOS from menstruating in a similar fashion. Insulin is another hormone and is in control of how your food turns into energy. To be insulin resistant means the cells in your body are not reacting correctly. Insulin resistance is a common cause of PCOS. It could come from inactivity, a poor diet or from a family history of diabetes. If you are diagnosed with insulin resistance, it is important to keep an eye on it, for it could develop into type 2 diabetes.


What Are The Symptoms?

PCOS looks different for every woman  with it. Some common symptoms include irregular periods, hair loss or hair thinning, excessive weight gain, acne and difficulty getting pregnant. But, PCOS can create long-term effects. PCOS can lead to type-2 diabetes, sleep apnea, high blood pressure, depression and anxiety. It has also been found that 21 percent of PCOS women suffer from an eating disorder or disordered eating habits caused by low-self-esteem due to weight gain.

How Is PCOS Diagnosed?

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, make an appointment with your primary care doctor or with your gynecologist. Your doctor should complete a basic physical or pelvic ultrasound to check for cysts on the ovaries to diagnose you. Blood tests should also be conducted to check on your hormone levels. From there, you may be diagnosed if you have two of the following symptoms: irregular periods, high levels of androgens or multiple cysts on the ovaries. 


What To Do If You're Diagnosed With PCOS?

While it may seem like a weight has been lifted off your shoulders with your diagnoses, half the battle is implementing new lifestyle changes. Depending on your doctor, you may be prescribed Metformin or birth control to help manage insulin resistance or regulate your period. These medicines can be helpful for some but could be harmful to others. Some doctors may also emphasize weight loss to help reduce PCOS symptoms, but weight loss is not the magic solution for PCOS. In fact, many PCOS women’s symptoms still persist after weight loss.  

Research has proven, though, that a reduction in sugary foods and a low-carb diet helps. A focus on hearty proteins and leafy greens and vegetables helps control hormones and reduces bloat and inflammation. Some PCOS patients have also seen success with a gluten and dairy-free diet. Exercising regularly also helps PCOS women. Once again, there is no magical exercise that works for all women with PCOS. But, women should factor in that certain exercises can cause high levels of stress, which may give reverse results. But, many will tell you that diet and exercise are vital in battling PCOS symptoms.

PCOS is a complicated syndrome that results in an even more complicated lifestyle. Sometimes what women with PCOS need more than anything is support. If you have someone in your life with PCOS, make sure to be there for them. Having a steady anchor within the crazy waves of PCOS makes life much more manageable.

Caitlin Hunt

Ohio U '21

Caitlin Hunt is a fourth year journalism news and information student at the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism. On campus, Caitlin is involved with the Ohio Fellows, Cru, and is a Templeton Scholar. She has served as a TODAY Show intern and a NAJA fellow. In her free time, she takes in as much pop culture as she can! She is always watching tv shows and movies, listening to music and obsessing over the latest Broadway musical. Check out her monthly blog, Caitlin's Pop of Culture to see what she's watching!
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