You can find endless information on health conditions of interest to you in just one click. But how do you know what is accurate? How do you know what is relevant to you? If you are one of the 5 million women in the US impacted by Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS), or a supportive family member, you want to know how to separate the myths from the facts when it comes to managing PCOS. And, more importantly, how it impacts other aspects of your health such as fertility and the development of other diseases such as type 2 diabetes.
Knowledge is power, but health is personal.
Congratulations on taking ownership of your health (or the health of someone you love) and seeking information and resources. Whether scanning the results of your latest Internet search or reading posts in an online group, it is helpful to know where you can go to sort out your questions. To begin, always consult your health care provider. He or she knows you best!
Find the source.
When online, look for nationally recognized health organizations or government agencies such as the Office of Women’s Health, the National Institutes of Health, or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). For other content, look for the “About” page or author information so that you are clear on the background and credentials of the people who are offering advice.
Be aware of common myths.
When it comes to how PCOS develops and its relationship to fertility, weight, and diabetes, there is a lot of misinformation. Having a basic understanding of the facts can help you and your family make the decisions that are right for you.
Here are a few myths to be aware of:
PCOS Myth #1
Only overweight women get PCOS.
All women can develop PCOS regardless of size. Scientists are not clear on the causes of PCOS. Still, we know that the symptoms (irregular periods, acne, excess body or facial hair, multiple cysts on the ovaries) generally stem from a hormone imbalance and insulin resistance. For example, women with PCOS can have more androgens (male hormones) than women who do not have PCOS. While these different hormone levels and insulin resistance can contribute to weight gain, women of all shapes and sizes can find themselves with a PCOS diagnosis. Following a healthy eating plan and being active is important for all women when managing PCOS symptoms and preventing other chronic diseases such as heart disease, stroke, cancer, and type 2 diabetes. The PCOS Nutrition Center offers specific guidance and resources for women with PCOS.
PCOS Myth #2
Getting pregnant and having PCOS can’t happen together.
While a primary cause of infertility can be PCOS, women with PCOS can get pregnant. Yes, it is true that the combination of irregular hormones, menstrual cycles, and ovulation, as well as enlarged ovaries from the follicles, can make it a little more complicated to have a baby for a woman with PCOS. However, it is not impossible. The key is to plan for pregnancy early so you can better overcome these challenges. Talking with your doctor about therapies, medications, and other options for addressing potential problems with ovulation and getting pregnant can help you be better prepared to face them. It is important to have a healthcare provider who hears you and helps you see all the available options.
PCOS Myth #3
If you have PCOS, you will get type 2 diabetes.
Very few things in life are definite, but we can’t ignore the increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes if you have PCOS. According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), more than half of women with PCOS develop type 2 diabetes by age 40. The majority of women with PCOS are resistant to the hormone insulin (helps the body regulate blood sugar). Insulin resistance does increase the risk of type 2 diabetes, but it doesn’t mean the diagnosis of type 2 diabetes is imminent. Regular care from your health care team, combined with healthy eating, physical activity, and even more important, stress management and regular sleep habits, can help keep your body at its healthiest when it comes to type 2 diabetes prevention.
PCOS Myth #4
All women with PCOS have the same story.
This is probably the most important myth to avoid. Social sharing sites are filled with stories from women with PCOS and their family members. While social support is essential for all of us, not all women with PCOS have had the same experience, nor do they need the same treatment. Some don’t have ovarian cysts, some don’t have an excess body or facial hair, and some aren’t insulin resistant. Some women have ovarian cysts or elevated androgens but do not have PCOS. Other conditions that can cause these symptoms must be ruled out before a PCOS diagnosis can be made. The only story that should matter to you – is your own. Be your best advocate, ask questions, and ask for help. And if you think you are alone, seek support from organizations like The National Polycystic Ovary Syndrome Association, who each year recognizes September as Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome Awareness Month.
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