Why PCOS Is Often A Missed Diagnosis

It's an issue widely acknowledged in the medical community: In comparison to our male counterparts, the female anatomy is still grossly understudied. While our understanding of female reproductive health has progressed leaps and bounds since the days when babies born female were thought to be "incomplete males", a concerning knowledge disparity remains (per Big Think). For evidence of this, we need look no further than polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).

PCOS is a hormonal and metabolic disorder marked by symptoms ranging from irregular periods, ovarian cysts, and an excess of "male" hormones to insulin resistance and complications with conception (perĀ Self). With 15% of women of reproductive age diagnosed with the disorder, you'd think more about PCOS would have been explored in the 80 years since its discovery (per WebMD). And yet, if you were to ask your doctor about the causes of PCOS or if they could point you toward a diagnostic test, it's more than likely that you would receive a rather disappointing answer.

Why is PCOS hard to understand?

The Endocrine Society released a scientific statement expressing the need for more research into PCOS, authored by Dr. Richard Legro. Legro suggests that because PCOS only happens to women, and it doesn't seem particularly dire to some, it hasn't gotten the attention it deserves (per Medpage Today). "We are not doing enough to understand this," Legro said (per WebMD). However he also acknowledges that the varying symptoms of PCOS are hard to track as they can change throughout the course of a woman's lifetime, and this can make diagnosing PCOS difficult.

Obtaining a PCOS diagnosis is also made harder by the fact that many symptoms of PCOS can be attributed to several other disorders (per Women's Healthcare of Princeton). When the reason for your irregular period can be a slew of different things, it makes it easy for doctors to gloss right over PCOS as they try to identify the cause of certain symptoms. Even the cause of PCOS can't be fully agreed upon, although it's believed that obesity, genetics, and hormone imbalance play a role.

A 2017 study in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism found that for a third of women who've been diagnosed with PCOS, it took two years and three different doctors to finally reach their diagnosis. And while there's not yet a singular diagnostic test for PCOS, it can be done through a pelvic examination, blood testing, and ultrasound (per Mayo Clinic).