PCOS and endometriosis are both chronic conditions women of childbearing age experience. On the surface, these two diagnoses on the surface seem almost indistinguishable, which has some people mistakenly believing the conditions are interchangeable! They both affect the reproductive, digestive, and immune system in very similar ways and cause compare symptoms.
However, though there are quite a few similarities between the two, they are two completely different conditions that affect your body in different ways. In fact, a woman can be diagnosed with endometriosis and PCOS. To help you understand the differences between the two conditions, I am using this post to break it all down!
Here’s what you need to know about endometriosis vs PCOS:
Difference Between PCOS and Endometriosis
The primary difference between PCOS and endometriosis is that PCOS is mainly a hormonal issue and endometriosis is mainly a physical issue. Both affect the reproductive system causing similar symptoms, but in very different ways.
PCOS and endometriosis symptoms differ because of the core issues they stem from. For example, endometriosis causes significantly more pain than PCOS. As you can imagine, scar tissue and adhesions binding your organs together would be very painful. PCOS pain, on the other hand, manifests as overall body aches, headaches, and worsened cramping during periods. This pain is less significant because it’s hormonal, rather than a physical trauma like with endometriosis.
You’ll notice that most symptoms of endometriosis are related to that physical trauma, so women with endometriosis will experience pain and dysfunction with the reproductive and digestive symptoms. However, you’ll read below that women with PCOS have symptoms that are reflective of its hormonal origin: acne, hair loss, weight gain, and more have a hormonal root cause. You won’t find these symptoms in a woman with endometriosis.
Lastly, endometriosis and PCOS also can be distinguished by their risk factors. Endometriosis occurs in women who started their period young, have short and heavy menstrual cycles, have high levels of estrogen in the body, and have a family history of the condition. However, the risk factors of PCOS are high androgen levels, insulin resistance, weight gain, poor diet, and a family history of PCOS. Aside from the genetic factor, the predispositions vary greatly between the two conditions!
Endometriosis vs PCOS
What Is Endometriosis?
Endometriosis is a condition where endometrial tissue grows in areas of the body outside the uterus. The tissue grows onto the ovaries, fallopian tubes, and the lining of the pelvis and turns to painful scar tissue and adhesions that can bind your organs and pelvic tissue together.
Causes of Endometriosis
Like PCOS, doctors and researchers don’t know what causes endometriosis. There are a few theories, though! Some think it’s due to retrograde menstruation, cell transformation resulting from irregular hormone levels, endometrial cell transport problems, or dysfunction in the immune system. All are valid theories, but none of them have been proven.
Signs and Symptoms of Endometriosis
- Pelvic Pain
- Ovarian Cysts
- Chronic Lower Back Pain
- Painful Periods
- Heavy Bleeding During Periods
- Pain During Sex
- Pain During Bowel Movements and Urination
- GI Problems
How To Treat Endometriosis
Estrogen seems to worsen the growth of endometrial tissue. A balanced diet can help a woman reduce those estrogen levels and find some relief. You can learn more about the specifics of an endometriosis-friendly diet in this episode of A Cyster and Her Mister.
Regular exercise has been shown to regulate estrogen levels, reduce inflammation, relieve pain, and improve blood circulation. All can be helpful for endometriosis! Like with PCOS, we recommend low-impact exercises like walking or yoga.
Many women with endometriosis find pain relief through acupuncture. Acupuncture can also reduce some of the risk factors of endometriosis and ovarian cancer by lowering peripheral blood CA-125 levels.
Nutrient deficiencies can worsen symptoms of endometriosis, so supplements can be a big help! Omega-3 and curcumin can help relieve inflammation while magnesium can aid muscle relaxation. All of these can have a pain-relieving effect.
Though the way endometriosis presents itself in the body is physical, we still don’t know the cause of endometriosis! It seems hormones do impact the aggressiveness of the tissue growth. Birth control, progestin therapy, aromatase inhibitors, and other medical hormonal interventions can alleviate symptoms.
Removing the extra endometrial tissue via surgery can be effective endometriosis treatment as well. Doctors can do “conservative surgery” which preserves the uterus or they can do a hysterectomy and oophorectomy where the uterus and ovaries are removed. Both can provide relief and even prevent tissue growth, but it’s not the only option for treating endometriosis! If you are exploring this option, definitely take time to weigh all the pros and cons.
What Is PCOS?
Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) is a condition characterized by sex hormone imbalance. The imbalances can domino into other issues throughout the body, like inflammation, insulin resistance, and thyroid problems.
Causes of PCOS
As mentioned, doctors and researchers aren’t sure what causes endometriosis or PCOS. They think PCOS is, at least in part genetic, since it seems to run in families. Beyond that, it’s sort of a chicken and the egg situation. It’s theorized that things like hormonal imbalances, insulin resistance, and inflammation could trigger PCOS. However, those things could also just be symptoms of the condition we’re not sure which came first!
Signs and Symptoms of PCOS
- Irregular or Menstrual Cycles
- Long, Heavy Periods
- OVarian Cysts
- Mood Swings
- Depression and Anxiety
- Sleeping Problems
- Excess Hair Growth on the Body
- Head Hair Thinning
- Weight Gain
- Dark Patches of Skin
How To Treat PCOS
What we eat has a big impact on our hormones, so finding the right diet for you can help you see lots of improvements in your PCOS symptoms! I recommend you try out an anti-inflammatory gluten and dairy-free diet and see how it works for you. You can find meal plans and tons of great recipes on The Cysterhood app, like these Sweet Potato Nachos!
Exercise can help PCOS in lots of ways! It can help reduce insulin resistance, balance hormones, lower stress levels, and assist with weight loss. All these will positively impact PCOS symptoms! I recommend low-impact exercises to workout your whole body while keeping your cortisol levels down.
Even with a great diet, getting all the recommended daily nutrients can be really difficult! Supplements can help give your body support and balance hormones to promote PCOS healing and symptom reversal! My NSF-certified supplement line Ovafit is specifically curated for a PCOS body, so it can likely help you find relief!
Stress AKA cortisol can cause a vicious cycle of insulin resistance and hormone imbalance. Reducing stress and practicing self-care can help your body find balance and support to alleviate symptoms.
Sleep is essential for hormone balance, so you need to get your 8 hours to heal your PCOS. This can be super hard with PCOS, because Cysters are at a much higher risk of sleep disturbances, but follow these PCOS sleep hygiene tips to get better rest.
Endometriosis and PCOS are very different conditions with several similar symptoms.
Whether you have endometriosis, PCOS, or both, I’m here for you! I know what you’re going through can be really difficult, but you can find healing! There are lots of natural methods to heal your conditions and find life-changing symptom relief. Listen to my podcast and browse the blog for more information on how to improve your polycystic ovarian syndrome or other hormonal struggles. The journey starts here!