PCOS And Infertility: Myths Vs. Facts
Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is one of the most common causes of infertility in women. That’s a fact. This endocrine disorder affects around 5 million women in their reproductive years here in the US alone.
With so many of us battling this disorder, it is not surprising that there is misinformation about PCOS proliferating social media & other digital channels.
Here’s the top myths about Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS):
1. It’s a rare condition
The CDC states “PCOS is one of the most common causes of female infertility, affecting 6% to 12% (as many as 5 million) of US women of reproductive age.” That’s indeed not rare, and furthermore it doesn’t count the estimated 50% of women undiagnosed with PCOS.
2. It’s your fault
The National Institute of Health disagrees. Although an exact cause has yet to be defined, the NIH agrees with researchers and health care providers that likely both genetic and environmental factors impact the development of PCOS.
“Because the symptoms of PCOS tend to run in families, the syndrome is probably caused, at least in part, by a change, or mutation, in one or more genes. Recent research conducted in animal models suggests that in some cases PCOS may be caused by genetic or chemical changes that occur in the womb“.1
3. Only overweight women get PCOS
It is true that the majority of women with PCOS tend to be above a certain BMI. However, the research does seem vague on pinning down the actual percentage of obese POS sufferers resulting in a wide range from 45% to 80% of patients.
Lean PCOS, a BMI under 25, does exist and research shows 10%-30% of PCOS patients fall into this category, with many going undiagnosed until they find themselves struggling with infertility or other symptoms.
As PCOS stems from a hormonal imbalance, most affected (not all) have above normal levels of androgens – those pesky male hormones. We can come by high androgen levels genetically and/or from increased levels of insulin. Insulin moves sugar from our bloodstream to our cells which we use for some fab energy. If our cells aren’t responding normally to insulin – our blood sugar rises. Our body then says “hey body – not enough glucose in our cells” & in turn produces more and more insulin. It’s a vicious cycle.
It’s also a myth that losing weight will rid you of PCOS. So, ignore those fads & scammers that pitch “supplements” or “diets” that will miraculously eliminate PCOS. They just want your money. There is no cure for PCOS, however losing weight and eating a balanced diet can help with the symptoms of PCOS.
Lean PCOS sufferers can share some of the same health challenges as obese patients. Up to 10% of lean women have undiagnosed diabetes, 20-25% are insulin resistant, and healthy weight women with PCOS are more likely to have higher levels of bad cholesterol and lower levels of good cholesterol than women without PCOS.
So, the end note, PCOS doesn’t discriminate. It affects a wide spectrum of women – no matter their weight.
4. You can’t get pregnant if you have PCOS
Yes, PCOS is the leading cause of infertility but that doesn’t mean it’s a doomsday scenario that many want to promote on the internet or social media.
IRMS Founding Partner & Reproductive Endocrinologist Dr. Serena H. Chen says it best
”Cannot get pregnant with PCOS?!? I hear this so often yet exactly the opposite is true! If you have PCOS your chances of having a healthy baby are outstanding. It will require some work to be as healthy as you can be, and you will often require some help from your OBGYN doctor or a fertility specialist, but you can conceive. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.“
5. If you have PCOS, you have Polycystic Ovaries
Not all women will have cysts on their ovaries and if you do have cysts – not all women have PCOS. To be diagnosed with PCOS, one typically presents with only 2 out of 3 conditions: high levels of androgens, irregular periods & multiple cysts on your ovaries.
So why call it Polycystic Ovary Syndrome if not all patients have cysts?
Dr. David Ehrmann, Director of the University of Chicago’s Center for PCOS who has presented over 60 papers and studies on the subject says “When called PCOS, the focus is on the ovary having cysts. That’s why there’s a current push to try to get PCOS remanded to the ‘reproductive metabolic syndrome,’” 2 he says, as this puts the focus on what’s important: the metabolic and reproductive abnormalities that are hallmarks of the disease.
6. You must have an irregular cycle
Come on. Really? There are so many conditions that can cause you to have an irregular cycle. Extreme dieting & exercise, fibroids, thyroid disorders, pelvic inflammatory conditions, stress & even breast-feeding can mess with your cycle.
A “normal” cycle is classified as 21 – 35 days. If your cycle is less or more than “normal” parameters then visit your OB for clarity on the cause.
Although there is much still to study & learn about PCOS and it’s causes – we do know you are not to blame. And although its potential impact on our health like diabetes, cardiovascular disease, infertility, endometrial cancer, should never be minimized & taken lightly – there is hope and resources available.
We are here to help and as Dr. Chen passionately notes – “….you can conceive. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.”
There is a dynamic advocate community dispelling misinformation and a strong federal push to provide resources and research into PCOS. Check out PCOS Challenge for some great content and support groups. Follow us on our social media handles where you’ll find some great info and videos like this one with Dr. Chen and superstar advocate Ashley Levinson (@pcosgurl). And please reach out to us here at IRMS. We are experts on infertility caused by PCOS. We have offices throughout New Jersey and Staten Island. You can reach us by giving us a call at 973.548.9900, filling out our contact form or simply DM us on IG, Facebook or TikTok.
1 www.nichd.nih.gov www.nichd.nih.gov/health/topics/pcos/conditioninfo/causes
2 12 Common Myths About PCOS — and the Facts Every Woman Should Know by Jessica Migala Medically Reviewed by Kacy Church, MD www.everydayhealth.com/pcos/myths-debunked/