PCO vs PCOS: Differences, Symptoms & Treatments Explained
Having Polycystic Ovaries (PCO) does not necessarily mean that you also have Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS). There is a subtle but important difference between these two medical conditions.
If you are trying to conceive with polycystic ovaries or with a polycystic ovarian syndrome, you must understand the difference between the two. Both PCO and PCOS can have an impact on your fertility as well as your general reproductive health. In this article, we are going to understand the differences between Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome and PCO in terms of both your chances to conceive and your overall health.
What is PCO?
Having polycystic ovaries is not that uncommon. As many as one in four women of reproductive age have PCO, according to medical studies. Most women don’t even realize that they have PCO until they discover it during a routine ultrasound. Some women might have some mild symptoms as well, which we will discuss in upcoming sections. A polycystic ovary is considered a variation in ovaries.
PCO and Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome are not the same, contrary to popular belief. Having polycystic ovaries is an important diagnostic criterion for Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, but it is not the sole criterion. Many women with PCO lack other features and might not be diagnosed as having PCOS at all.
The major difference between PCO and PCOS is in the way they impact the hormonal system. Women with PCO have a disturbance in their reproductive hormones even though they might not have PCOS. The hormone levels of women with PCO are generally between the normal values and values of women diagnosed with polycystic ovarian syndrome.
- Some women experience irregular periods and even abdominal pain
- That said, most women with PCO might not have any outwardly detectable symptoms at all
A routine ultrasound exam is the easiest way to diagnose PCO. In most cases, as women with PCO don’t have any symptoms, they find out about their condition by accident. For some women, mild symptoms such as having irregular periods or light abdominal cramps might prompt them to visit the doctor’s office, where they might discover about their condition. If you have PCO, your ultrasound might reveal multiple ovarian follicles.
What is PCOS?
PCOS, or Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, is a less common form of PCO. However, it is still one of the most commonly diagnosed reproductive medical conditions among women of reproductive age. The rate of PCOS diagnosis stands at 1 in 5 women visiting their OB/GYN with any period-related complaint. As said earlier, women diagnosed with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome have polycystic ovaries, but women who have polycystic ovaries don’t necessarily be diagnosed with PCOS.
PCOS is considered a metabolic condition characterized by having abnormal levels of reproductive hormones in the body. Women with PCOS have an increased level of male sex hormone, testosterone in their bodies, along with a high level of estrogen. Women diagnosed with PCOS often exhibit resistance to Insulin, an important hormone in the metabolism of sugar.
Most women diagnosed with polycystic ovarian syndrome will have some symptoms. Some of them are listed below:
- Having Polycystic Ovaries (PCO)
- Pain in the abdomen
- Irregular periods
- Abnormal menstrual cycles that are shorter than 21 days or longer than 35 days are considered irregular.
- Heavy bleeding during the menstrual phase of your periods
- Irregular periods
- Having obesity or being overweight
- Having excessive growth of facial and body hair
- Male pattern baldness and even acne
Diagnosis of PCOS is made clinically, and two of the following three criteria must be met for a positive diagnosis:
- Having Irregular Periods: Irregular periods that are longer or shorter than normal are among the hallmark symptoms of PCOS.
- Having too many Androgens: An abnormal level of androgens in the body is also a clear telltale sign of Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome.
- Having Polycystic Ovaries: All women diagnosed with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome will have polycystic ovaries.
If you exhibit some obvious symptoms such as excess facial hair (Hirsutism) or having irregular periods, your fertility expert might be able to diagnose you with PCOS right away. In some cases, he/she might prescribe some lab tests to confirm the diagnosis.
How to treat PCO vs. PCOS?
Having polycystic ovaries is considered a variant of having normal ovaries and hence does not require medical intervention. If on the other have you have been diagnosed with PCOS, your doctor might recommend some of the following treatment options:
- Hormonal birth control pills: Birth control pills are used to treat Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome as they can lower the levels of androgens (male sex hormones) in the body. Hormonal birth control pills can also help you control acne and normalize your irregular periods.
- Another medicine that is routinely prescribed to women with PCOS is Clomid. It helps in regularizing the periods and also helps women with PCOS to ovulate regularly. As a result, Clomid might help women diagnosed with PCOS with their fertility issues as well.
- Other medications such as Spironolactone to control acne are also prescribed. Most additional drugs prescribed for PCOS are not necessarily TGA-approved for PCOS treatment but as used as off-label treatments. Metformin, a medication used to treat diabetes, bight also helps with insulin resistance in PCOS.
- Many women with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome are overweight or obese and have some degree of insulin resistance. Losing a healthy amount of body weight might help prevent the development of type II diabetes and other symptoms of PCOS. Consult with your doctor to determine a safe weight loss goal.
- Myo-Inositol helps restore ovarian function and regulates your menstrual cycle in order to promote conception.
Fertility PCO vs. PCOS
Let’s get one thing very clear, women with PCO can get pregnant. However, the presence of multiple follicles may affect the regularity of their menstrual cycle and occasionally interfere with the ovulation process. Hence, getting pregnant can be a bit difficult, but certainly not impossible.
On the other hand, women diagnosed with PCOS can find getting pregnant is much more difficult because of the hormonal component involved. The good news is that it still possible for women with polycystic ovarian syndrome to get pregnant with proper fertility treatments. There are many fertility treatment options for women having PCOS, and it is often a matter of which treatment option will work.
Clomid is one of the first-line treatment options for PCOS in women TTC. A normal woman below 35 has about a 25% chance of getting pregnant every month. With Clomid, the opportunity for a woman having PCOS is about 15% every month. Hence, although the chance of getting pregnant is lower, what is important is that it still is 15%. Women who can ovulate on Clomid have a 50% chance of getting pregnant.
If a woman cannot get pregnant even on Clomid for a year, she is considered resistant to the medication. Your doctor might refer you to go for In-vitro fertilization (IVF) to help you get pregnant in such cases. According to one study, the Clomid resistance in women with PCOS was at about 25% of the test subjects.
Tracking ovulation PCO vs. PCOS
Irregular ovulation is one of the reasons that women with PCOS find it difficult to get pregnant. If predicting your ovulation is difficult, you might find it difficult to plan sexual intercourse to give yourself a chance of getting pregnant. Women with PCO can also have irregular cycles making them difficult to track their ovulation, but it is far less common in PCOS than PCOS.
Tracking your ovulation using ovulation prediction kits from Fertility2Family can help you in determining your fertility window. Our ovulation test kits are available in both strip and ovulation mid-stream forms. We suggest buying the ovulation strip tests as they are cheaper which allows you to test multiple times a day all throughout your cycle without needing to worry about the cost.