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Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) is a hormonal and metabolic disorder that results in enlarged ovaries (sometimes with small cysts on the outer edges). It effects 5-10% of women of childbearing age, and its symptoms can be extremely painful and difficult to deal with. The cause of PCOS is unknown, but it is often associated with insulin resistance, present within familial lines, and likely connected to an irregular production of the androgen hormone.


Despite its prevalence, PCOS is frequently misdiagnosed. This is due to the range of potential causes of its symptoms. Symptoms can include pelvic pain, missed periods, fatigue, excess hair growth, trouble getting pregnant, headaches, moodiness, heavy menstrual bleeding, trouble sleeping, excess weight gain and difficulty losing weight, and more. This range of symptoms make it difficult to identify PCOS, especially from the more common symptoms like heavy menstrual bleeding. For example, heavy menstrual bleeding can be caused by pelvic inflammatory disease, bleeding disorders, medications, polyps, and uterine fibroids, as well as by PCOS. As a result, many women experience the symptoms of PCOS for years before receiving an accurate diagnosis.


However, the delay in PCOS diagnosis is reflective of sexism and gender bias in healthcare in addition to the difficulties that the symptoms pose. Women are frequently told by their doctors (especially by male doctors) that their reported pain is less severe than they claim or lack an understanding of what heavy menstrual bleeding actually is. Additionally, because PCOS makes it difficult to lose weight, overweight or obese women often experience discrimination when searching a diagnosis, receiving a recommendation to simply change their diet or exercise more. Ultimately, it is important for women to receive a PCOS diagnosis as soon as possible to begin symptom prevention treatment, as there is no cure. However, the barriers above make it a difficult task.


Luque-Ramírez, M., Alpañés, M., Sanchón, R., Fernández-Durán, E., Ortiz-Flores, A. E., & Escobar-Morreale, H. F. (2015). Referral bias in female functional hyperandrogenism and polycystic ovary syndrome, European Journal of Endocrinology173(5), 603-610.  
Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS). (n.d.). [Johns Hopkins].
Polycystic ovary syndrome—Symptoms. (2022, October 11). [NHS].
Why Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome Is Often Misdiagnosed: Women’s Healthcare of Princeton: Gynecologists. (n.d.).

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