Beardless Ladies: Misdiagnosing PCOS Because You Don't Look the Part
To look at me, you would never think that I have polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). The typical PCOS woman may have extra hair growth on their faces or be overweight; acne as well is quite common. These symptoms stem from increased testosterone and androgen levels. There’s a “bearded lady” impression that is synonymous with PCOS, either that or she’s bald – neither choice is too desirable. I have none of these symptoms, aside from the occasional “I should have plucked” peach fuzz, and this is why four different doctors shrugged off the idea that I may suffer from PCOS simply because I “didn’t look the part.” By year three of trying to conceive and roughly 10 thousand dollar later, doctor number five was shocked that I had not been diagnosed with the disease before; to him it was obvious.
My story is far from out of the ordinary. PCOS, currently an incurable inflammatory disorder, is the leading cause of infertility and as many as five million women suffer from it. Yet it is estimated that about 10 percent of women go undiagnosed. The tale of the bearded woman is something of a myth as in the general population around 25 percent of women will have polycystic ovaries seen on an ultrasound examination, but most have no other symptoms or signs of PCOS.
September is PCOS Awareness month. Telling my story and that of three other women who have gone through similar misdiagnoses, and buckets of money, will bring awareness to this issue that is so often ignored because of lack of beards.
I am culture writer for the Houston Press and a (recent) PCOS suferer.