Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) affects about five million women in the US, but there’s a lot we don’t know about it.
Wondering is PCOS an autoimmune disease is a totally valid question—as is asking if getting pregnant with PCOS is possible.
Or how to treat PCOS without birth control.
So, here are some things we know about PCOS:
- It’s one of the most common conditions to affect women—as many as 10% might have it to some degree.
- It’s the result of a hormone imbalance.
- It causes symptoms that can affect different parts of your body—from your reproductive system to your [hair]PCOS Hair Loss: Everything You Need to Know and skin.
But as for the underlying cause (and cure for PCOS), there’s still some research to be done.
Let’s dig deeper.
In this article: 📝
- What is an autoimmune disease?
- Is PCOS considered an autoimmune disease?
- Is PCOS considered a chronic illness?
- Do people with PCOS have a weakened immune system?
What is an autoimmune disease?
There are more than 80 different types of autoimmune disease. 🤯
All of them cause your body to make antibodies that attack your own healthy cells instead of the bacteria and viruses that they’re supposed to fend off.
The problem with autoimmune diseases is that they’re difficult to understand—because the immune system is so complicated—and they’re often lifelong.
If you catch a cold, your immune system will eventually fight off the infection.
But if your body is essentially fighting itself, it’ll keep replacing the damaged cells with healthy ones.
This means that the autoimmune reaction, and your symptoms, will often continue in the long term.
So, where does PCOS fit?
Well, with its roots in your immune system as well as in your hormones, recent studies have us asking the question Is PCOS an autoimmune disease?
Read on for what we know below.
Is PCOS considered an autoimmune disease?
So what kind of disease is PCOS?
Technically, PCOS (or polycystic ovary syndrome) is classified as an endocrine disorder, not an autoimmune disease.
In fact, it’s the most common endocrine disorder to affect women.
Endocrine diseases are related to your hormones. For example, diabetes stops your body from making its own insulin, and an over- or under-active thyroid affects your metabolism.
With PCOS, the problem is that your body produces too many androgens – specifically testosterone.
Although all women need a small amount of testosterone for their bodies to function normally, too much of it leads to a variety of unpleasant symptoms.
But it might not be as simple as that, and PCOS and autoimmune conditions do have some things in common.
They both have a strong genetic component, and the symptoms often come from inflammation in the body.
What’s more, the imbalance of hormones that comes from PCOS (especially the low level of progesterone) seems to overstimulate your immune system and creates antibodies against your own organs, including your ovaries.
Is PCOS considered a chronic illness?
Yes, PCOS is a chronic illness – it lasts for more than one year, it needs ongoing treatment, and it can affect your quality of life.
But there are ways to manage the symptoms with lifestyle changes and medications:
- Exercising more can reduce how resistant your body becomes to insulin (which in turn can reduce the amount of testosterone you produce)
- Reducing the amount of refined carbohydrates and sugar you eat and drink can also keep your blood sugar more stable and reduce inflammation in your body
- Changing the products you use in your skincare routine can control hormonal PCOS acne
- Taking hormonal birth control can block some of the excess testosterone your body is producing
Do people with PCOS have a weakened immune system?
It’s natural to worry whether a chronic condition might increase your risk of catching COVID or becoming very ill.
Although PCOS wasn’t included on the list of risk factors at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, new information suggests that people with PCOS should be more cautious about the virus.
One study put women with PCOS at a 28% greater risk of catching COVID.
As well as this, PCOS can cause some other conditions which would put you at high risk of becoming seriously ill:
- Type 2 diabetes
- High blood pressure
- Low vitamin D levels
Even if you haven’t been diagnosed with these conditions, it’s worth taking extra precautions against COVID as you might be in the early stages without knowing.