Myths about PCO syndrome and what’s behind them

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Polycystic ovary syndrome, in short PCO syndrome or PCOS, is a hormonal disorder that can occur in women of reproductive age. It is one of the most common endocrinological disorders, affecting about
1 million women in Germany. Many of those affected are women with an unfulfilled desire to have children.

A disease with many faces

PCO syndrome is multifaceted and can manifest itself with a variety of symptoms. Often the ovaries in women with PCOS are surrounded by many small cysts lined up like a string of pearls; on the other hand, women can also have cysts in the ovaries without being affected by PCOS. Other symptoms include menstrual irregularities, insulin resistance, diabetes mellitus, obesity, increased hair growth on the body and face, acne, or hair loss. However, not every woman who has any of these symptoms has PCOS.

Diagnosis criteria

For a reliable and uniform diagnosis of PCO syndrome, the so-called Rotterdam criteria within the “ESHRE Guideline” for the diagnosis of PCOS apply. Accordingly, at least two of the following criteria should be present after exclusion of other diseases:

1) Hyperandrogenemia and/or clinical signs of hyperandrogenism: In this case, increased male hormone concentrations (androgens) are present in the blood. They can lead to acne, hair loss and unusually strong body hair in the patient.
2) Oligo- or amenorrhea: The patient has either bleeding intervals of >35 days or no periods at all.
3) Ultrasound criterion: Ovaries of more than 20 follicles and/or increased ovarian volume (≥10 ml) must be present on ultrasound examination.

Since PCO syndrome is so diverse and misconceptions and misdiagnoses are often made, many PCOS myths persist in the minds of women and doctors. We have compiled a few myths for you here and explain what is behind them:

Myth: Women with PCOS must always take birth control pills for treatment

In conventional medicine, PCO syndrome is usually treated exclusively with hormone preparations such as the birth control pill or the sugar drug metformin. The birth control pill inhibits the formation of male hormones in the body and is thus supposed to help against masculinization symptoms and skin problems such as oily skin and acne. However, these treatments do not solve the underlying cause of PCOS, which is hormonal imbalance. After discontinuation of the birth control pill, PCO syndrome will reappear with all its symptoms and complaints.

To treat the real causes of PCOS, holistic and natural approaches are recommended, which can help to keeping many of the complaints under control. Julia Schultz @juliaschultz_coaching is a hormone coach and PCOS expert who supports you in getting your hormones back on track naturally, without birth control pills, but with the right diet and lifestyle changes. On her website you can learn more about holistic and natural measures to regulate PCOS. Let Julia advise you in detail!  You can find more information hier.

Myth: Women with PCOS do not ovulate and cannot get pregnant

For a reliable and uniform diagnosis of PCO syndrome, the so-called Rotterdam criteria within the “ESHRE Guideline” for the diagnosis of PCOS apply. Accordingly, after exclusion of other diseases, at least two of the following criteria should be present:
1.) Hyperandrogenemia and/or clinical signs of hyperandrogenism: in this case, increased male hormone concentrations (androgens) are present in the blood. They can lead to acne, hair loss and unusually strong body hair in the patient.
2.) Oligo- or amenorrhea: The patient has either bleeding intervals of >35 days or no periods at all.
3.) Ultrasound criterion: ovaries of more than 20 follicles and/or increased ovarian volume (≥10 ml) must be present on ultrasound examination. Because PCO syndrome is so diverse and misconceptions and misdiagnoses are common, quite a few PCOS myths also persist in the minds of women and also doctors. We have compiled a few myths for you here and explain what is behind them:

Myth: Women with PCOS always have irregular cycles

Irregular cycle is when the cycle lengths vary by ±8 days. This is often a dangerous self-diagnosis, because women with irregular cycles quickly think they are affected by PCOS. In fact, about 70% of all women have irregular cycles! Even irregular cycles can be perfectly healthy and have ovulation. Often, short and long cycles alternate with early and late ovulations. Repeated bleeding intervals of > 35 days do not necessarily mean that PCOS is present, because here, too, another diagnostic criterion must be met and, above all, confirmed by the gynecologist. Thyroid dysfunctions can also influence the length of the cycle, for example. Furthermore, stress, mental strain, time differences when traveling as well as hormonal fluctuations during puberty or menopause have an effect on the cycle. By the way, with OvulaRing you can get to know your individual cycle and fertility pattern exactly, even with irregular or very long cycles, and determine whether your cycles are healthy and when you ovulate.

Myth: Women with PCOS always have strong body hair

The high level of androgens in the blood leads to typical androgenization, i.e. masculinization, in affected female patients. This also includes so-called hirsutism, an increased androgen-dependent hairiness with a male distribution pattern in women. The manifestations are very different and range from a somewhat stronger leg and intimate hair to a strong hairiness on the arms, back, abdomen, neck as well as a real beard growth. However, not all women with PCOS suffer from male pattern of hair growth. Conversely, not every woman with stronger hair growth is affected by PCO syndrome. For example, women from different countries also have different levels of body hair, and misinterpretations can quickly arise here.

Myth: Gluten-free diet is only suitable for celiac disease sufferers

Nutrition is medicine! Probably the most important measure to stay healthy and fit despite PCOS is the right diet. Hormone releases, such as insulin, can be controlled quite well through this and excess weight and PCOS symptoms can be reduced. However, calorie reduction alone will not show success. What really helps? A gluten and dairy free diet! PCOS is an inflammatory condition of the body that is often accompanied by insulin resistance. Eliminating gluten-containing foods from the diet helps to fight inflammation in the body, which in turn makes it easier to lose weight. A dairy-free diet also contributes to a healthy lifestyle in PCOS. Scientists have shown that high dairy intake increases insulin secretion and resistance. Therefore, a combination of a gluten- and dairy-free diet with avoidance of white sugar and highly processed products, as well as a high-protein diet, is best for PCOS. Unsure how to integrate the new diet plan into your daily routine? Julia Schultz has created many delicious gluten- and dairy-free recipes for every PCO type for you in her new book “Living with PCO Syndrome” and shows you how you can easily get your PCOS under control with the right diet. You can find more information here.

Myth: Gluten-free diet is only suitable for celiac disease sufferers

Weight reduction in the case of a high BMI has been shown to have a positive effect on the fulfillment of the desire to have children. When overweight type 2 diabetic women with PCOS reach a healthy weight, both their metabolism and their cycle often normalize. Only, unfortunately, with PCOS it is not so easy to reduce weight, because hard training will not achieve success. To lose weight with PCOS, the cause, namely the hormonal imbalance, must be treated again. So how can exercise be used to rebalance hormones? High-intensity interval training only promotes the release of stress hormones in the body, which in turn leads to weight gain. More suitable are exercises with a slow pace, which prevent the release of stress hormones. Therefore, low-intensity workouts with small weights are ideal for PCOS, as they keep hormones in balance while losing weight.

Are you also affected by PCOS and have you been confronted with other prejudices? We would appreciate a comment on Instagram @ovularing_ or Facebook!

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