PCOS: common & silent.

Tegan writes

I’m nineteen years old and have just been diagnosed with polycystic ovarian syndrome.

I’ve done a bit of looking around but I can’t seem to find anything really clear about it.

I’d love to know about people out there who have it and are living with it. Whether they have been able to successfully have healthy children without to much effort.

I know I’m only young and kids aren’t on the table at this stage in my life but being diagnosed with this has really made me think.

I’ve always thought when the time comes to have kids it would just happen. But with pcos I believe from what I’ve read it’s alot harder to conceive and there are risks involved.

Despite having been diagnosed with PCOS at about the same age, it might surprise you to know that I am not a doctor.  So one of our MM regulars, Emily Reardon (who we know and love as EmilyR) has gone to the  The Jean Hailes Foundation for Women’s Health where she just happens to work and,  in conjunction with their trained health professionals,  compiled some real smart information and accessible answers



Have you heard of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)? It’s a hormonal disorder characterised by three main features – high levels of androgens (male hormones), irregular ovulation and polycystic ovaries. You only need to exhibit two of these three features to be diagnosed with PCOS. Recent stats suggest that PCOS may affect up to one in five Australian women of reproductive age.

How cysts form

During a normal menstrual cycle, your ovary will fill with many small, fluid-filled sacs called follicles, destined to eventually become eggs. At ovulation, one egg is released and the rest of the follicles break down – at least that’s what’s supposed to happen. In women with polycystic ovaries, the follicles don’t break down. They continue to fill with fluid and become cysts, causing the ovary to swell.

Here’s the confusing part: you can actually have polycystic ovaries without having the full-blown syndrome. Approximately 25 per cent of women have small cysts on their ovaries (as seen via an ultrasound) but not all of them are classified as having PCOS because they either have no symptoms or very mild symptoms. By the same token, there are some women with PCOS who don’t have visible cysts on their ovaries – but they have all the symptoms of the condition and therefore are classed as having PCOS.

The main point to remember is that PCOS and polycystic ovaries aren’t the same thing – some women will have only one or the other, and some will have both.

What causes it?

We don’t know what causes PCOS. It’s most likely due to a combination of genetics and lifestyle factors. PCOS seems to often run in families and close female relatives (e.g. sisters, daughters) of a woman with PCOS have up to a 50 per cent chance of also developing the condition.

Women with PCOS are also more likely to be overweight and have insulin resistance. Insulin is a hormone that helps control your blood sugar levels. If you have insulin resistance this means your body doesn’t respond well enough to insulin. People with insulin resistance have a high level of insulin circulating in their bloodstreams. This increases their androgen levels, which makes their PCOS symptoms even worse. Insulin resistance also increases your risk of developing diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

What are the symptoms?

Irregular periods – High levels of androgens and insulin can disrupt your menstrual cycle – you may have a longer cycle (35 days or more) or your periods may stop altogether. As your cycle gets longer, ovulation may become less frequent and may eventually stop.

Acne – Another side-effect of the excess androgens is acne on the face and body. Androgens increase the size of the oil glands in the skin, causing pimples.


Alopecia (hair loss) – Some women experience hair loss or thinning on their heads in a ‘male-pattern’ i.e. receding hair-line and thinning on the top of the scalp.

Fertility issues – Due to changes in their menstrual cycle and ovulation, some women with PCOS may have difficulty getting pregnant. One of the first steps in maximising your fertility chances is to make sure your weight is within a healthy range for your size. Being above a healthy weight can worsen PCOS symptoms, including fertility problems. However in some cases, lifestyle changes alone are not enough and medical assistance may be required to conceive.

Psychological and emotional effects – Some women with PCOS experience poor self-esteem and body image. These symptoms can affect your mood and make it harder to be motivated to take care of yourself.

Hirsutism (excess hair)

Excess androgens stimulate the hair follicles to grow darker and thicker hairs, often in areas where it is more common for men to grow hair (e.g. chin, upper lip, sideburns, chest, around the nipple, lower abdomen and thighs).

Important: Not everyone with PCOS will experience all of these symptoms and some people experience milder symptoms than others.


How do I know if I have it?

A visit to your GP is the first step in getting a correct diagnosis. (Although looking for health information online can be useful, “Dr Google” is not always reliable!) Your GP may request a medical history, ultrasound and blood tests to confirm the diagnosis.  

Is there a cure?

Short answer: no, but there are many treatment options available depending on which symptoms you have and whether you’re trying to get pregnant. Treatments can be divided broadly into two groups: lifestyle changes (improve diet, increase physical activity and maintain a healthy weight) and medical management (medications and surgical treatments). The important thing to remember is that a treatment program needs to be individually tailored to your specific symptoms and requirements (so it’s best to see your health practitioner for advice).

For more information go to The Jean Hailes Foundation for Women’s Health or to The Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome Association of Australia Inc.

Written by Emily Reardon on behalf of the Jean Hailes Foundation for Women’s Health.

The information in this article is for educational purposes only and is not intended to be taken as personal medical advice. If you have any concerns about your health, you should consult your health practitioner.

My PCOS was possibly responsible for some trouble conceiving my second child but mostly, I haven’t had any big troubles from it. However I know many people who have been affected very badly….Have you been diagnosed with PCOS or has someone you know?  How did you deal with it?

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