September is the month of PCOS awareness. Many people have heard the term PCOS before but may not know what it stands for, or what a diagnosis could entail. Keep reading to find out 5 facts about PCOS that most people probably don’t know.
Firstly, what is PCOS?
Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) is a hormonal condition that affects 1 in 10 women of reproductive age, with around 70% of cases being undiagnosed. There is no cure for PCOS, however it can be successfully managed through diet and lifestyle factors.
Fact 1: PCOS has many different symptoms
PCOS is a syndrome, and is best defined as a group of symptoms related to a lack of ovulation and a high level of androgens (male hormones). Someone with PCOS may experience all these symptoms, or only a few. This is part of the reason why PCOS is difficult to identify, and many people go undiagnosed.
Some of the common symptoms that you might experience if you have PCOS include:
- Irregular periods (over 35 days long or too many days of bleeding)
- Excessive facial or body hair
- Insulin resistance
- Acne on the chin or jawline, back, neck and chest
- Weight gain
- Hair loss/thinning on the scalp
Fact 2: You do not need to be overweight to have PCOS
It is true that many women with PCOS can struggle to lose weight due to insulin resistance and other factors, however, individuals that are within the healthy weight range can also have PCOS. Around 1 in 3 women with PCOS will sit within the healthy weight range, but can still present with any other symptoms such as irregular cycles.
It is important to actively manage your weight if you do have PCOS, as being of a healthy weight can improve fertility, insulin resistance and androgen levels, therefore reducing the physical symptoms of PCOS.
Fact 3: You do not need to eliminate carbohydrates
Many complex carbohydrates are actually very important for PCOS sufferers, and it is not recommended to eliminate them completely. Complex carbohydrates such as buckwheat, oats, brown rice and quinoa contain essential nutrients such as zinc, magnesium and B vitamins, as well as fibre to support gut health and keep us full throughout the day. Fibre also helps to slow the absorption of sugar into the blood, which is important for people with insulin sensitivity or resistance. It is recommended however, to reduce the amount of processed carbohydrates and sugars in your diet.
For women with PCOS who are struggling with weight loss, a lower carbohydrate diet may be beneficial. A recent study found that women with PCOS who followed a lower carbohydrate diet long term (for more than 4 weeks) aided weight loss, and subsequently reduced their testosterone and insulin levels. These women didn’t eliminate carbohydrates entirely but aimed for their daily energy intake from carbohydrates to be less than 45% each day.
Fact 4: The name PCOS is misleading
The name polycystic ovarian syndrome causes a lot of confusion, as it incorrectly suggests that cystic ovaries are required to be diagnosed. The name PCOS was created in 1935 before we really knew much about the condition and like many things created almost 100 years ago, it is outdated. In fact, there has been a recent push to change the name to Metabolic Reproductive Syndrome to avoid this confusion.
Around one third of women will have polycystic ovaries visible on an ultrasound, but this alone does not indicate PCOS. To be diagnosed with PCOS, they need to meet two of the three following criteria:
- Irregular or absent periods
- Acne, excess facial or body hair growth, scalp hair loss, or high levels of androgens (male hormones) in blood
- Polycystic ovaries visible on an ultrasound
If an individual meets criteria 1 and 2, there is no need for an ultrasound.
Fact 5: Women with PCOS can fall pregnant
A common misconception is that women with PCOS are infertile and not able to fall pregnant, but in actual fact women with diagnosed PCOS on average have the same number of children as women without it.
However, PCOS can unfortunately make it more difficult for women to fall pregnant, especially if their condition isn’t well managed, due to the high levels of androgens that may prevent ovulation from occurring. Having PCOS can also increase the likelihood of pregnancy complications such as miscarriage, high blood pressure, gestational diabetes and premature birth.
So, there you have it, 5 facts about PCOS that most people probably don’t know. Although PCOS can’t be cured, it can be successfully managed with a supportive health care team and a healthy diet and lifestyle. If you want more information about eating a healthy diet, you can follow our balanced meal guide for a step by step approach to building balanced meals. Lastly, if you think you may have PCOS be sure to visit your GP or trusted health professional.