Category Archives for PCOS

An Unfortunate Marriage: Sleep Apnea and PCOS

Nature is full of ideal pairings: peanut butter and jelly; cookies and cream; cats and laser pointers, and so on. Unfortunately, PCOS and obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), while frequently paired, are hardly ideal.

Obstructive sleep apnea is characterized by repeated episodes of partial or complete blockage of the upper airway during sleep, leading to loud snoring, gasping or choking, frequent waking, and poor sleep quality. This condition is often associated with obesity and, just like obesity itself, has reached epidemic-level prevalence in the United States, with estimates that 17% of the adult population has OSA, with that number jumping to 41-58% of overweight individuals.

Unfortunately, OSA is also much more common in women with PCOS. How much more common, you ask with a wince? Well, studies have found that OSA may be 30 times more common in women with PCOS, even after controlling for body mass, and that a whopping 70-75 percent of women with PCOS may also have OSA. Yikes!

Poor sleep quality is hardly the only downside to OSA. The condition, in conjunction with the ramifications of consistently poor or interrupted sleep, can lead to increased stress hormones circulating throughout your system, more severe mood swings, increased depression and anxiety, hypertension, stroke, coronary artery disease, insulin resistance and diabetes (as if we need any more risk of that!), and decreased mental clarity. Double yikes!

Often, conditions like PCOS, OSA, obesity, and diabetes play a kind of terrible chicken and egg game in which each condition exacerbates the others, and vice versa. Diabetes and poor sleep can lead to weight gain, which worsens OSA, which sends your stress hormones further out of whack, which keeps your androgen levels high, which causes further PCOS symptoms, etc. I’d say triple yikes but I think you get the picture.

Adding to the difficulty, because OSA is a medical condition, there is little a health psychologist such as myself can do on our own (even my powers have limits!). I can screen for OSA when I’m evaluating sleep problems, but ultimately, I’ll have to refer you to a medical doctor. So what do women with PCOS do about OSA? The first and most important step is to get tested for it and diagnosed — particularly if you find that you tend to snore, wake up frequently during the night, sleep poorly, or feel tired during the day frequently. More than likely, you will need a referral to a pulmonologist, a specialist who deals with the respiratory system.

Fortunately, OSA is often easily treated. Treatments may include bedtime additions such as nasal strips, a mouth guard, or a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine. While these devices may take some time to get used to, you will be amazed at how much better your sleep quality will be, and how much better that makes you feel overall. Research has also found that the vast majority of people with OSA do not even know they have it. If you are a woman with PCOS and you have one or more of those sleep-related symptoms I mentioned earlier, chances are, you are in this group. You deserve better. Get yourself diagnosed and treated, and you might just be amazed at how much your quality of life improves!


Lee, W., Nagubadi, S., Kryger, M. H., & Mokhlesi, B. (2008). Epidemiology of obstructive sleep apnea: a population-based perspective. Expert Review of Respiratory Medicine, 2(3), 349–364.

Tasali, E., Cauter, E. Van, & Ehrmann, D. (2008). Polycystic Ovary Syndrom and Obstructive Sleep Apnea. Sleep Medicine Clinics, 3(1), 37–46. Retrieved from

Dr. Gretchen Kubacky

Humblebrag: I’ve joined the PCOS Challenge Health Advisory Board!

I’ve previously written about the importance of community support for women dealing with PCOS. This support can come from family and friends, as well as mental health professionals, medical professionals, and both in-person and online support groups. One of the most important organizations PCOSers (Is that even a word? It is now!) should be aware of is PCOS Challenge.

About Dr. Gretchen | PCOS Wellness | Dr. Gretchen Kubacky, the PCOS PsychologistPCOS Challenge is the leading non-profit advancing the causes of those with PCOS and their loved ones. Not only does it sport a 40,000-member strong online community, but it also creates television, radio, and online programming as well as hosts numerous online and offline support groups. If you are a woman with PCOS or a person who loves one, I highly recommend you join the site and begin reaping the benefits!

One of those benefits is the FREE bi-monthly online PCOS Challenge Magazine! In the current May-June issue, yours truly has a featured article all about dating with PCOS, as well as quick tips on fighting anxiety and depression.

  • Have you felt either too intimidated or too jaded to date?
  • Are you feeling unsure when, or how, to disclose to a potential partner that you have PCOS?
  • Trying to figure out how to handle personal grooming in dating and partnership?
  • Looking for quick, easy solutions to manage your mood swings, depression, or anxiety?

Behold, the answers lie within!

Also in this issue, you will find a very special announcement. I am extremely pleased and honored to share that I have joined PCOS Challenge’s Health Advisory Board (HAB)! The HAB consists of researchers and healthcare leaders who help ensure the accuracy of the information that PCOS Challenge shares, as well as helps guide PCOS Challenge’s content, funding, and advocacy efforts.

This is a huge honor for me and I am excited and grateful to get to utilize my expertise as a health psychologist specializing in PCOS and other endocrine disorders to contribute to such an important organization!

Gretchen Kubacky, Psy.D., “The PCOS Psychologist,” is a health psychologist in private practice in Los Angeles, California. She a Certified PCOS Educator, and the founder of You can contact Dr. Kubacky at

Dealing with the Diagnosis of PCOS

A diagnosis of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS), or any other chronic illness, changes your life. The formal diagnosis might have been preceded by years of battling with mysterious symptoms, feelings of inadequacy or shame, the trials of judgmental or unsupportive family members or friends, and a deep feeling of anxiety about just what the heck was going on with you. How does getting such a diagnosis affect you? How do you cope and move forward?

Different people will react to being diagnosed with PCOS or another chronic illness in a myriad of ways. For some, receiving a diagnosis might feel like a relief after a long and exhausting search for an answer. For others, a diagnosis might feel more like a life sentence.

Many negative reactions to receiving a serious diagnosis are common. Fear, for example, might be the most common of all. Receiving a serious diagnosis can feel terrifying for the patient, as they struggle to wrap their heads around what it might mean for them, their family, and their future. Another common negative reaction is anger. Even for those whose diagnosis feels like an answer to a mystery, they might feel angry at the time and energy they have lost searching for answers. Anger might be sparked by thinking about the delays in getting diagnosed and treated. Often, such anger may co-exist with, or even be covering up, deep feelings of loss and grief. People who receive a serious diagnosis like PCOS must give themselves the time and space to grieve and heal. Being diagnosed with PCOS can mean needing to face a restructuring of one’s identity and expectations for the future.

On the other hand, many women experience positive reactions to finally being diagnosed with PCOS. For example, often there is a feeling of gratification at finally having an answer. Without a diagnosis, a woman might have been struggling in the dark for years with mysterious symptoms and dismissive doctors. A formal diagnosis can have a tremendously validating impact on a woman by proving to herself and others that she is not crazy, and that there really is something wrong. Furthermore, getting diagnosed can give the years of preceding pain and confusion a sense of meaning. Rather than struggling against a strange and nameless foe, a diagnosis allows the person to marshal their resources against a specific and well-defined enemy. Finally, a diagnosis provides a label for one’s health problems that can be easily communicated to others. It provides a common language with which to communicate your health concerns and needs.

One other benefit of receiving a formal diagnosis is that it is a necessary and important step in the road to long-term adjustment to chronic disease. Researchers recommend that patients with a chronic disease, like PCOS, should take several concrete steps to begin adjusting to their diagnosis. One is maintaining an active lifestyle, with regular exercise, as this not only boosts your physical health but also improves your mood. Another recommendation is to express one’s emotions fully and constructively, be it to partners, friends, or helping professionals. This is where a qualified health psychologist (like me!) can really come in handy, by helping you learn how to effectively communicate your needs and feelings in order to reduce stress and build supportive alliances with others around you. In addition, researchers recommend that patients actively engage in self-management of their condition, such as mobilizing personal resources, balancing, pacing, and prioritizing your lifestyle, and recognizing and monitoring your own personal boundaries, such as your energy levels and work hours.

Finally, healthy adjustment to a chronic disease involves trying to find the hidden positive outcomes of the disease. While a disease like PCOS can cause numerous unwanted and even traumatic outcomes, such as infertility, there is the possibility that adjusting to the condition may result in improved appreciation of life, an enhanced sense of purpose, better attention to self-care, and improved communication and/or relationships. The road of having PCOS or some other chronic condition is certainly not easy, but it also has the potential for hidden upsides.

de Ridder, D., Geenen, R., Kuijer, R., & van Middendorp, H. (2008). Psychological adjustment to chronic disease. Lancet (London, England), 372(9634), 246–55.

Dating with PCOS: How to NOT Freak Out

If you’re new to dating, the whole thing can be kind of strange and terrifying. If you’ve been at it a while, you may be feeling less optimistic, a little jaded, or even have experienced some deep hurt in the process. One of the most daunting things facing women with PCOS is how to handle PCOS-related topics while dating. Here are some tips on how to bring up the subject.

Early Dating: Surface Exploration
If you’re serious about finding a relationship partner, the purpose of a first date is merely to determine if you’re interested enough to have a second date. Because PCOS is an unknown for most people, and it’s a “disease,” treat it the way you would handle any other bad news. You don’t want to talk about your crazy ex, the abortion you had in high school, your mother’s alcoholism, or anything else that might scare someone off. Same with PCOS.

This is not about lying; it’s about becoming more intimate in a gradual and meaningful way that strengthens a growing relationship, while protecting you from injury by someone who isn’t attached enough to be decent and thoughtful, and may just bail out on you.

Next Stage Dating: Getting Intimate
This means getting more intimate emotionally as well as physically. As a health psychologist, I’m all about protecting and promoting your health, so of course I’ve got to throw in a reminder about having a talk about pregnancy and STDs. And what a great opportunity to start opening the lines of conversation around PCOS! You might say something like “I have something called PCOS, which means that getting pregnant is much less likely for me, and…condoms are still a priority for me (or, “I’m on birth control because of my PCOS, but we still need to use condoms to protect both of us.”).

If your partner is female or trans, it’s still good to have the STD conversation, because no one’s exempt. It just changes the conversation a bit. You might say, “Before we go any further, I need to let you know something about my health. I have PCOS.” If it’s your style to be funny or dramatic, feel free to use a dramatic pause so that they’re freaking out thinking you might have a STD; that way PCOS sounds like nothing! If you’re afraid that PCOS will scare someone off, yes, it could. But it’s not likely – and wouldn’t you rather know now than when you’re two years down the line and planning a wedding?

More Mature Relationship: Grooming, Mood Swings, and More
I have a friend who thinks couples should know/do/see everything about the other person. Her husband says: “Mystery! Please, maintain a little mystery!” The more time you spend together, the more likely your partner is to notice any discomfort you have with your body. You can hide your early morning shave for a long time, but eventually a pesky random hair is going to protrude and get noticed. Acne and hair loss are visible no matter what. Most people won’t ask. But if you would feel more comfortable bringing attention to it, do so with kindness to yourself, and like it’s not a big deal, and you’ve got it covered. Something like “You might have noticed that my hair is thinning a little. I’m kind of embarrassed, but I’m seeing a good dermatologist, so don’t worry that I’m going to end up looking like The Rock.” (As you can see, I really like to insert a little humor into painful and uncomfortable situations.)

Deeper subjects, like infertility or PCOS-related depression/anxiety/mood swings, can be approached when you have built trust in your partner. Appropriate timing, respecting your own needs for privacy as well as for self-disclosure, and a little humor will go a long way in easing your new beloved into the subject of PCOS.

Gretchen Kubacky, Psy.D., “The PCOS Psychologist,” is a health psychologist in private practice in Los Angeles, California. She a Certified PCOS Educator, and the founder of You can contact Dr. Kubacky at

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