The Common Hormonal Disorder Doctors Can’t Figure Out

Polycystic ovary syndrome, or PCOS, is an endocrine condition that affects up to one in 10 womenbut doctors have been struggling for years to know how to diagnose it

Magdalena Puniewska
Published in
7 min readMay 9, 2019


Illustration by Haleigh Mun

TTara Teschke knew something was wrong even before she went to the doctor. After years of regular menstrual cycles, her periods had become painful and sporadic. Around the same time, she was hoping to lose weight before her upcoming wedding but was having trouble, even after implementing an intense regimen of running 10Ks and weight lifting several times a week.

The first few doctors she saw chalked up her symptoms to a thyroid issue, and urged her to slim down, a response that left her frustrated. “When someone tells you, ‘Just lose weight,’ but you’re really doing everything you can and in pain, you just start to crumble,” says Teschke, a 36-year-old writer and musician from Austin, Texas. “I felt like all they saw was my weight, not my symptoms.”

She kept seeing different doctors, trying in vain to learn what was wrong. Two years later, in 2014, one physician mentioned she might have a hormonal disorder known as polycystic ovary syndrome, or PCOS, but wouldn’t run the tests necessary for a diagnosis because Teschke didn’t have health insurance. It was only a few months ago, six doctors and five years after the initial onset of her symptoms, that she was able to get a diagnosis confirming that doctor’s suspicion.

Bouncing from one health care provider to another is almost a defining feature of the PCOS experience. A 2016 study from the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine found that nearly 50% of women with PCOS saw three or more health professionals before getting a diagnosis, and for about a third of women, it takes more than two years to receive one.

PCOS is one of the most common endocrine conditions in women between 15 and 44 — it’s estimated that one in 10 women in this age group has it.

The lag time could stem from the fact that PCOS is more a collection of symptoms than a cohesive condition with a known cause. And many of…