What To Know About Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS)

Robin Berzin, MD
Medically Reviewed
September 18, 2019

Are you - or is a woman in your life - suffering from hormonal acne, feeling off, and having irregular periods? These might be signs of Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, also known as PCOS.

PCOS is estimated to affect 1 in 10 women of childbearing age and is one of the most common causes of infertility. Thanks to the Internet and real life stories from celebrities like Victoria Beckham and Daisy Ridley, more people than ever are familiar with this hormonal imbalance.

Reports indicate that PCOS is on the rise and yet, despite its prevalence, much remains unknown about the syndrome. As with most things that are related to a woman’s menstrual cycle and hormones, there has been little discussion about this syndrome and many women are left wondering if they have PCOS, misunderstanding what PCOS is, and signs of PCOS look like. Unfortunately women are coming to believe things that just aren’t true about their condition, what it means for their health, and how to treat PCOS.

What is PCOS?

What many people don’t realize is that PCOS is not a disease but rather a set of symptoms that can present together. The syndrome can express itself in a variety of different ways such as the following:

  • Classic PCOS: High androgen (male hormone) levels, irregular or absent ovulation, and a polycystic ovary.
  • Hyperandrogenic anovulatory PCOS: An excess of androgens and irregular or absent ovulation.
  • Ovulatory PCOS: High levels of androgens and a polycystic ovary.
  • Non-hyperandrogenic PCOS: Irregular or absent ovulation, along with a polycystic ovary.
  • The recently proposed fifth strain of PCOS is obesity. Women with this type have insulin resistance which causes their testosterone and estrogen production to go into overdrive. As a result, these women typically experience acne , facial hair, and irregular or absent ovulation.

It is often falsely assumed that the way one woman experiences PCOS is how all women experience it. For example, it is commonly believed that having PCOS means you have cysts on your ovaries and won’t have a regular period. In fact, only three of the four types of PCOS are associated with ovarian cysts and while menstruation can be affected by the condition, it is also heavily dependent on inflammation , body fat percentage, and one’s cortisol and insulin levels. Similarly, some, but not all, women with the condition will experience acne , facial hair growth, or both.

If you have been given a PCOS diagnosis, the best thing you can do is educate yourself and find a physician who will take the time to explain the syndrome and work with you to heal. Just because a friend has PCOS or you have heard that women with it always have a particular symptom, does not mean that you will have the same experience. At Parsley Health , we believe in a personalized approach to medicine because no two people are the same. Between our comprehensive hormonal testing and in depth doctor visits, we will get to the root cause of your symptoms and design the best possible treatment plan to meet your needs.

Robin Berzin, MD

Dr. Robin Berzin is the Founder and CEO of Parsley Health, America's leading holistic medical practice designed to help women overcome chronic conditions. She founded Parsley to address the rising tide of chronic disease in America through personalized holistic medicine that puts food, lifestyle, and proactive diagnostic testing on the prescription pad next to medications. Since founding Parsley in 2016, Dr. Berzin has seen 80% of patients improve or resolve their chronic conditions within their first year of care, demonstrating the life-changing value of making modern holistic medicine accessible to everyone, anywhere. Parsley is available online nationwide.

Dr. Berzin attended medical school at Columbia University and trained in Internal Medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. Her book, Prescription for Happiness: How to Eat, Move, and Supplement for Peak Mental Health, was published by Simon Element in January 2022.

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