PCOS -- A Complicated Disorder

Why Diagnosis of PCOS is Difficult
PCOS is difficult to diagnose for several reasons. First, many women do not report the symptoms of PCOS. Embarrassed about their symptoms, they do not talk openly with their physicians. Also, women often do not recognize that the various symptoms can be the result of a single cause. Compounding the problem, many physicians lack current knowledge about diagnosing and treating PCOS. They may attribute PCOS to other causes, especially lifestyle factors such as too much stress or excess weight gain. Furthermore, the term “polycystic ovary syndrome” itself can be misleading. The presence of cysts on the ovaries may or may not be a sign of PCOS. A single large cyst occurs naturally on the ovaries each month when the follicle containing an egg develops and ruptures. This cyst can reach a diameter of two to four inches but usually disappear with menses. Researchers estimate that 20 percent of women without PCOS have cysts on their ovaries. And approximately 30 percent of women with PCOS have “normal” ovaries with no cysts.

Of course, many women with PCOS do have multiple tiny cysts on their ovaries. In these cases, follicles begin to mature but never rupture to release the egg. As this process repeats month after month, multiple cysts form. The ovaries can become enlarged, taking on a thick, shiny, white coating, sometimes referred to as an “oyster shell.” In women with many cysts, the cysts are said to resemble a “strings of pearls” lined up on the edge of the ovary.

It is important to get a diagnosis as soon as possible. Fortunately, there are many treatment options available to women with PCOS, once the condition is properly diagnosed.


Living with PCOS by Angela Boss and Evelina Weidman Sterling, copyright 2001. Reprinted with permission.

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