I’m going to blow your mind – polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) has little to do with the ovaries.
PCOS is a common, but often misunderstood condition. 12–21% of women of reproductive age will suffer from it and despite the small acronym the diagnosis has many implications.
The syndrome, despite the name, is more about the body’s metabolism and how it deals with insulin as opposed to the ovaries. Whilst most people’s minds jump to overweight women with excessive hair growth when they think of PCOS, take a look at Victoria Beckham – a very slender woman who has struggled with the condition. There may be friends or family members who have the condition that you are not aware of – remember how they said to never judge a book by its cover?
Here are the main things you should know.
The disorder has 3 characteristic features and you only need 2 to be diagnosed. Irregularities of menstrual cycle, high levels of testosterone (with features like excessive hair growth or elevated levels on a blood test) and characteristic features of the ovaries on ultrasound are the 3 criteria. The ovaries are not essential to diagnosis, so everyone harping on about them can be very misleading! You can be diagnosed with the condition and have perfectly normal ovaries on an ultrasound.
The ‘cysts’ everyone refers to are actually follicles in the ovary. A follicle is where the eggs are made and when a woman ovulates there is one lucky follicle (usually!) that gets to release an egg. People often ask me “what will happen to the cysts? Do they get surgically removed or burst?” The image that many of my patients have in their mind of a huge ovary with pimples all over it isn’t necessarily correct – and the follicles don’t need removal.