It’s September, which means it’s PCOS awareness month!
If you haven’t heard of PCOS or are wondering why there’s a month dedicated to the condition – this article is here to bring you up to speed. PCOS stands for polycystic ovary/ovarian syndrome and is a condition affecting the ovaries’ ability to produce eggs. Although the condition is considered ‘cystic’, no cysts are actually present. These ‘cysts’ appear as a result of immature follicle development in the ovaries(1).
Typically, symptoms are varied and affect people in different ways. Common symptoms include skin changes, hair changes, irregular periods, hirsutism, and mood fluctuations (2). Some cases may affect fertility; however, infertility is not inevitable with PCOS (see point 4), a common misconception (2). If you have PCOS, this month is for you to feel heard, supported, and validated. If you do not have PCOS, this month is an opportunity to learn how to listen to, support, and validate those around you who may have PCOS.
With that being said, here are four reasons we need PCOS awareness month:
1. PCOS is a highly undiagnosed condition.
Despite its commonality, affecting 8-21% of menstruators of reproductive age, the condition can go largely unnoticed (1). Approximately 70% of cases go undiagnosed – a shocking number when you consider the impact this can have on those with the condition (1). This is for various reasons like poor diagnostic times, gender bias in medical settings, poor understanding of the condition, and more (1,2,3). Improving our awareness of the symptoms can help reduce diagnostic times and support better health outcomes.
2. Weight stigma affects the support people are receiving.
PCOS is currently categorised into two distinctions: ‘lean’ and ‘obese’ (4). This categorisation is harmful to those in the process of receiving a diagnosis, omitting the person it is affecting from the support they receive (4). Patients are often instructed to lose weight to improve their symptoms, failing to focus on the underlying cause (4). This also increases the risk of self-blame for the condition and may lead to negative relationships with food (4). By improving our understanding of PCOS, we can strive to improve patient care by reducing patient blame and incorporating weight-inclusive programmes.
3. We need to improve education about post-pill PCOS.
The exact cause of PCOS development is currently unknown; however, we generally associate it with genetics and family history (1). While these are the lead causes, post-pill PCOS also contributes to the percentage of those with the condition (5). This is because of the changing hormone levels we experience post-hormone use (5). Compared to non-pill PCOS, post-pill PCOS may only affect someone temporarily within 4-6 months of stopping use.
4. A diagnosis does not equal infertility.
If you have been diagnosed with PCOS, questions about your fertility may have been raised. It can be a scary and confusing time due to worries about infertility. People can feel abandoned and unsure how to support themselves and what this means for their future (6). Thankfully, it is a common misconception that a PCOS diagnosis equals an infertility diagnosis. Nutrition and lifestyle changes have been suggested to improve fertility outcomes, helping you to create the life you want to live (6). By improving awareness, we can make sure that those with PCOS can still achieve their fertility goals.
As we move through the rest of the month, I’ll be sharing more information, tips, recipes, and more. If you want to stay up to date, check out my socials for more! Plus, my fortnightly newsletter is full of exclusive support, just for those on my mailing list. Check it out below, and let’s help improve PCOS awareness together.