December 7, 2022
When Neelam Heera was diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) as a teenager, her family told her to keep it to herself due to what the condition could mean for her fertility — and, ultimately, her desirability as a partner or wife.
PCOS is an illness where the ovaries produce an abnormal amount of androgens, a male sex hormone usually present in women in small amounts. In some PCOS cases, an individual doesn’t produce enough female sex hormones for ovulation, which causes cysts to develop on the ovaries. High levels of androgens can cause issues with the menstrual cycle, including missed periods and irregular periods; more body hair; weight gain; acne; thinning hair; and fertility concerns.
“I’m judged by having these conditions because fertility is put on such a pedestal in the South Asian community,” Heera, who lives in West Yorkshire in the U.K., said. “Anything that has a detrimental effect on fertility is seen as the fault of a woman.”
PCOS affects 6%-12% of U.S. women of reproductive age or about 5 million people. Yet, a 2010 study found that more than 50% of British South Asians have PCOS, compared to 20% of white Brits. In the last 10 years, evidence suggests that the condition could be more severe and more common among South Asians — but due to other comorbidities and the different ways PCOS can manifest, getting an accurate diagnosis can take a long time or never happen at all.