Introduction To Polycystic Ovary Syndrome
This series will go over all you wanted to know about PCOS, and hopefully a bit more!
PCOS stands for Polycystic Ovary Syndrome. I’ve also seen it written as Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome. I will be calling it PCOS in this article.
Even though it was ‘discovered’ in 1935, there has been evidence that it has been around longer.
In 1721, there was an Italian scientist that described a person’s ovaries similarly to what would now be PCOS.
So it seems to have been around for a while now, but no one really knows too much about it – at least when it comes to the possible causes.
I don’t think this comes as any surprise to those of us with ovaries because of the long history of our bodies being considered defective or inferior to those with a penis.
On the bright side, I’ve been noticing talk and awareness around PCOS is increasing.
I want this series to be a place that answers any questions that you have and hopefully some you have never considered.
In this first article, you will see:
- what PCOS is and common myths and misunderstandings;
- what hormones are and what they do, as well as how they play a major role; and
- the difference between a syndrome and a disease.
This information will be the foundation for the next articles all about the interconnected bits like inflammation, insulin resistance, increased testosterone, stress, sleep, liver health, and gut health.
Then I will share recommendations you can bring into your life.
What is PCOS – And What Is It Not?
Polycystic Ovary Syndrome is a complex metabolic and endocrine condition. Huh?!
A metabolic condition occurs when the basic functions of your digestive system are in some way altered or not working properly like inflammation and blood sugar dysregulation.
This will then lead to hormone imbalances aka an endocrine condition.
The complex part of the description means it impacts multiple body systems.
This is a complicated way of saying it is a bunch of possible symptoms that may or may not show up for you.
A lot of body systems are impacted by PCOS and it does not manifest the same for every body.
The S in PCOS is for Syndrome.
A syndrome is simply a collection of symptoms, and if you have enough of these symptoms, you have the syndrome.
A disease usually will have a definable cause with distinguishing symptoms and treatments.
Whereas a syndrome is a collection of symptoms that does not have a definite cause and the treatment will depend on the symptoms presenting in a particular body.
Below is the list of symptoms that point to possible PCOS. This is known as the Rotterdam Criteria.
If you have two of the symptoms below, by definition, you have PCOS.
I want to point out here that I am not diagnosing you, nor am I saying this is all the information you need to diagnose yourself.
If you have two or more of these criteria, please talk to your doctor to know for sure.
These are the symptoms:
- Irregular cycles lasting more than 35 days and anovulation (no ovulation) or irregular ovulation – day 1 is your first day of bleeding.
- Polycystic ovaries are seen on an ultrasound
- Symptoms of excessive androgens – acne, hirsutism (thick, dark hair in unwanted places like upper lip, nipples, chin, chest/stomach area…), hair loss, oily skin, increased body odor, sleep disturbances
If any of these sound familiar to you, please see your doctor and talk to them about this possibility.
In addition to the above three symptoms, there are other symptoms that are commonly found in bodies with PCOS. These are not part of the judging criteria, but they can be useful to help you narrow things down:
- Binge eating
- Skipped periods, goes with irregular and long cycles. They can be skipped for months at a time.
- Weight gain/trouble losing weight
- Being on the Pill to ‘treat’ irregular cycles or other symptoms
- Anovulatory cycles – no ovulation
- Recurrent miscarriage
- Heavy bleeding during periods
- Abnormal mid cycle bleeding
PCOS can also lead to excess estrogen. To learn more about excess estrogen, click here.
Myths About PCOS
You need to have cysts in your ovaries to have PCOS.
As you can see from the Rotterdam Criteria, you do not need to have cysts to have this syndrome. This is the reason why some healthcare professionals are looking to have the name changed. It is misleading. This also means that you do not need to have any of the other criteria if you have the other two.
People with PCOS are overweight or obese.
Sigh! This is a common misconception and unfortunately it can lead to trouble. Weight and health have for some reason, at some time, been mushed together to the detriment of us all. The thought that thin is healthy and ‘overweight’ is unhealthy is something we see every day, even if it is not recognized.
Long story short, people who are seen as ‘overweight’ or ‘obese’ by their healthcare provider are told to lose weight and that will cure all the issues.
While thinner bodies are not even considered to have PCOS, and may not even be an option in the doctor’s mind.
You cannot get pregnant if you have PCOS.
Simply not true. You may need extra help, but it is 100% possible.
Taking the Pill is a good treatment for PCOS.
The Pill is more of a band-aid. It will mask the symptoms, but the root cause will still be there. It is always better to work on the roots to a problem than simply cover up what problems the root is causing.
You did something to cause it.
The actual cause/s of PCOS is/are unknown at this time. This doesn’t mean that you cannot get to the root cause and actually help your symptoms. It means no one really knows yet how these conditions started off. Is it genetic, environmental, chemical, etc?
One of the defining traits of a syndrome is that the cause is unknown.
And while you did nothing to cause it, there are steps you can take to make it all a bit easier!
What is True of PCOS?
PCOS can lead to many serious diseases if left untreated or undiagnosed.
Having PCOS puts you at greater risk of developing:
- heart disease,
- high cholesterol,
- high blood pressure,
- subclinical hypothyroidism,
- autoimmune conditions, and
- endometrial cancer.
This is a pretty intense list.
PCOS affects as many as 10% of people with ovaries.
I have seen numbers as low as 2% and as high as 20%.
This tells me that no one really knows how many people are affected by this.
I did see that as many as 50% of this population may go undiagnosed, which is a scary thought when the risks down the line have such dire consequences.
PCOS is a hormonal disorder that is characterized by the overproduction of androgens like testosterone which leads to the prevention of regular ovulation.
Hence the irregular cycles and infertility if left undiagnosed and untreated.
We also know that hormones are greatly impacted in a body with PCOS.
So let’s talk about hormones!
In this series, I will be talking a lot about hormones and the connections they have to body functions and specifically PCOS and its symptoms.
For this reason, I want to talk generally about hormones first to give you a good basis for understanding what is to come.
I love hormone talk, and I want to bring you in on the hormone love too!
Hormones are simply chemical messengers in the body.
They are usually created by endocrine glands, but they can also be introduced to the body knowingly (like in the case of medications) and/or unknowingly (through food, beauty products, and other chemicals.)
Your body is constantly working to stay in a state of homeostasis.
This simply means balance.
Your body knows the exact amount of glucose to have in the bloodstream, for example. (The exception to this is diabetes.)
When the level goes below or over what is in balance, there is a message sent out to specific organs/tissues to correct these levels.
This is called a feedback loop.
All of this is done through your crafty hormones.
Hormones are created and released to do a very specific job.
This can be to tell another gland to produce and release a specific hormone/protein/chemical which then goes on to affect another gland or it can be the one that directly takes the action to bring levels back into balance.
PCOS greatly impacts hormone balance.
A Hormone Example
A quick example of this is when you eat a few delicious cookies!
With this intake of sugar, the body starts to respond.
There are special cells in the pancreas (an endocrine gland) that are constantly monitoring blood glucose levels.
When the levels are too high, the pancreas responds by releasing insulin.
Insulin then communicates with the cells in the body to intake more glucose right now because there is an excess.
When the blood glucose levels move back to normal, the pancreas stops the release of insulin while it keeps monitoring the blood.
The pancreas will also respond when blood glucose levels are too low.
It will then release glucagon which travels to the liver to give the message that the liver needs to convert glycogen (the version of glucose stored in the liver) to glucose and release it into the bloodstream.
The pancreas will then notice this change and stop responding to the low blood glucose levels because they are now within a normal range.
That’s the long and short of it.
I used sugar and insulin as an example here because it comes into play with PCOS and its symptoms.
Your body is doing this all day, every day, and it is monitoring countless data points to keep your body at homeostasis/balance. It is truly incredible.
Polycystic ovary syndrome is multi-faceted, and the more I learn, the less I feel I know and the more I want to learn.
It seems like it’s a deep, never-ending rabbit hole!
In the next article, I will go through the various ways all of the hormones and systems involved interact and mingle.
Everything is connected.
If you like what was shared here, share it with your friends and family.
Yours in plant love,
If you feel like you need personalized guidance from Carly…
I invite you to book a FREE Hormone Clarity Assessment by clicking on the button below!