In the world of reproductive conditions that can be tough to diagnose, two tend to get the most attention: polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) and endometriosis. While you’ve probably at least heard of both of these conditions, you might be fuzzy on the details. And, with that, it’s easy to confuse the two.
It’s important to know that it’s not rare to have either one of these health issues. “These are two relatively common gynecological conditions,” says Taraneh Shirazian, MD, an ob-gyn with NYU Langone Health. PCOS affects one in 10 women of childbearing age, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office on Women’s Health (OWH). Endometriosis is slightly more common, impacting more than 11 percent of women between the ages of 15 and 44, according to the OWH.
Both conditions are notoriously tough to diagnose, given that their symptoms could be caused by a range of different issues, says Jessica Shepherd, MD, an ob-gyn in Texas. That doesn’t mean it’s impossible for a doctor to make the right diagnosis—it just can take a little more time and detective work than with some other conditions.
But, while both PCOS and endometriosis have some characteristics and symptoms in common, they’re not the same. “They’re very distinct, different conditions,” Dr. Shirazian notes. Here’s what you need to know about the differences between PCOS and endometriosis.
What exactly is PCOS?
What it is: PCOS is a health problem caused by an imbalance of reproductive hormones, the OWH says. That hormonal imbalance creates problems in the ovaries, which make an egg that’s released each month as part of a menstrual cycle. When you have PCOS, the egg might be develop the way it should or it might not be released during ovulation, the OWH says.
The most common symptoms:
- Irregular periods
- Excess hair growth on the face, chest, abdomen, or upper thighs
- Severe acne, or acne that doesn’t respond to typical treatments
- Oily skin
- Patches of thick, velvety, darkened skin
- Ovarian cysts
What is endometriosis?
What it is: Endometriosis, also commonly referred to as simply “endo,” happens when the endometrium, the tissue that normally lines the uterus, grows outside of the uterus and on other areas in your body where it doesn’t belong, according to the OWH. Endometriosis tissue growth is most commonly found on the ovaries, fallopian tubes, tissues that hold the uterus in place, and the outer surface of the uterus, although it can also show up on the vagina, cervix, vulva, bowel, bladder, or rectum, too.
Endometriosis implants respond to changes in the female hormone estrogen, and the implants may grow and bleed like the uterine lining does during your period, ACOG says. That can cause the surrounding tissue to become irritated, inflamed, and swollen.
The most common symptoms:
- Chronic pelvic pain, especially before and during your period
- Pain during sex
- Pain when you poop
- Pain when you pee
- Heavy bleeding during your period
Worth noting: Many women with endometriosis don’t have symptoms, according to