Health Insights

PCOS vs PCOD: What Is The Difference?

Is it PCOS or PCOD or both? Find out the real story behind these commonly confused terms

If you’re already familiar with PCOS, you’ve probably heard it used interchangeably with PCOD. Maybe you’ve even been calling it PCOD all this while. After all, potayto, potahto, right? Well, not really. PCOD happens to be an outdated acronym for the health condition that is PCOS. But are you confused about what these acronyms even mean? Don’t worry because we’re here to decode them for you!

History Behind the Mix-Up

Earlier, polycystic ovarian syndrome or PCOS was incorrectly called polycystic ovarian disease or PCOD. The term was first described in 1935 by Stein and Levinthal, and it used to be called Stein-Levinthal Syndrome. At that time, they noted patterns between obesity, irregular periods and hirsutism.
Today, however, scientists call it a syndrome since it’s a group of symptoms rather than a “curable” disease. Women with this condition usually display a mix of symptoms, but not necessarily all of them.

What exactly is PCOS?

PCOS is one of the most common hormonal disorders there is. Typically, it is characterized by irregular periods, ovarian cysts and excessive male hormones. This hormonal imbalance can prevent the ovaries from releasing an egg and lead to metabolic and reproductive issues (like obesity, diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, infertility, and uterine cancer).

Symptoms and Diagnosis

There are various criteria for diagnosing PCOS, which is confusing not only for patients but also for doctors. Currently, scientists and experts collectively prefer the Rotterdam Criteria for diagnosing PCOS.
The Rotterdam Criteria states that 2 out of 3 of the following criteria are required to make the diagnosis:

  • Irregular periods (see our article about normal periods)
  • Excessive male hormones (e.g., seen as abnormal hair growth or acne)
  • Many small cysts in the ovaries
Other PCOS signs (not always present) include:
  • Sudden weight gain or obesity
  • Excess hair on the face or body
  • Infertility
  • Severe acne or oily skin
  • Hair loss
  • Significant changes in mood
  • Darkening and thickening of the skin in certain areas (particularly the armpits and neck)

A gynaecologist usually diagnoses PCOS through a physical exam, ultrasound screening (for ovarian cysts) and blood tests. In some cases, PCOS can be diagnosed based on the patient’s history and physical exam alone. However, to verify a PCOS diagnosis, other conditions that mimic PCOS must be excluded (e.g., thyroid disease and androgen-secreting tumours).

To sum up, PCOD is an outdated term that doctors and medical professionals no longer use. PCOS is not a ‘disease’ as it does not have a definite cause, symptoms and cure. Instead, it is a hormonal disorder with a set of symptoms, which can cause severe health problems when left untreated. To diagnose it early and get a treatment customised for you, always consult a doctor.

Reviewed by

Dr. Shailly Prasad, MD/MBA, Resident Physician, Obstetrics & Gynaecology.

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