Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) is a common hormone disorder that causes issues with your menstrual cycle, reproductive organs, skin, weight, and overall health. Although it’s very common, PCOS often goes undiagnosed and unmanaged by most people who have it. In fact, out of those with PCOS, approximately seven in 10 go undiagnosed.

But what exactly is PCOS and how can it affect you and your health? When you’re exposed to almost 3,000 ads and promotional messages daily, it can be tough to parse out the facts. Here, we’ll go over some of the most common questions and misconceptions about PCOS, and what you can do if you find yourself experiencing PCOS symptoms.

Is PCOS an ovarian disease?

Unlike pre-menstrual syndrome, also known as estrogen dominance, which afflicts millions of people but is considered normal, PCOS is a hormone imbalance that shows up as irregular menstrual cycles, a higher level of androgens, and small cysts in the ovaries.

But PCOS isn’t just an ovarian illness. It’s an endocrine and metabolic disorder that affects the entire body.

For instance, some people with PCOS may have ovarian cysts while others may not. Polycystic ovaries alone don’t meet the criteria for a PCOS diagnosis. Some research and clinical groups are pushing to rename the disorder to metabolic reproductive syndrome because of the diverse symptoms related to PCOS.

Why is it important to get diagnosed and treated for PCOS?

While PCOS is underdiagnosed and undertreated, it’s important to talk to your doctor if you’re experiencing symptoms. Not only can PCOS symptoms cause significant distress, but unmanaged PCOS is often associated with other medical conditions.

These medical conditions include, but aren’t limited to:

  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Sleep apnea
  • Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease
  • Depression
  • Infertility

Early PCOS diagnosis and treatment can reduce your risk for these medical conditions. If you’re experiencing symptoms of these medical conditions, talk to your doctor. Seek emergency medical attention if you’re experiencing a fever of 104F or higher, you’re having difficulty breathing, or you’re experiencing chest pain.

What are the symptoms of PCOS?

There are several symptoms of PCOS, but not every person experiences the same symptoms. For instance, you may not have polycystic ovaries but may still have PCOS.

Some of the most common symptoms of PCOS include:

  • Irregular menstrual cycles. You may miss periods, have fewer periods, stop having periods, or may have your period every 21 days or fewer.
  • Irregular hair growth. You may grow hair on parts of your body where you don’t usually experience hair growth.
  • Acne. You may experience more frequent breakouts on your face, chest, and upper back.
  • Hair loss or thinning. You may lose more hair than usual or may experience hair thinning.
  • Weight. You may have difficulty gaining weight or losing weight.
  • Irregular skin darkening. You may have darkening patches of skin in the groin, on your chest or under the breasts, and along the neck creases.
  • Skin tags. You may have more skin tags than usual. Skin tags are small excess flaps of skin in the neck or underarm area.

What can be used to treat PCOS?

There are several medications you can take for PCOS. Birth control, antidiabetic medications, anti-androgen medications, and metformin can help to balance hormones and regular blood sugar.

Behavioral changes can also have a big impact on managing PCOS symptoms. For instance, movement is not only great for getting the brain going, but it can also help your body regulate hormones. Consider getting involved in low-impact exercises like dancing if you’re looking to get moving more often, too.

Consider limiting sugars and simple carbohydrates in your diet to balance insulin and prevent inflammation, too. Increasing the amount of fish you eat can also be beneficial, which may explain why 60% of those who go fishing are surprisingly under the age of 45.

PCOS symptoms can be painful or difficult to manage. Left untreated, PCOS can also increase your risk of other health conditions. That said, if you’re experiencing symptoms of PCOS, it’s important to talk to your doctor or OB/GYN about any symptoms and discomfort you may have.