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Live with PCOS: Thrive, Empower, Embrace Your Unique Journey

MA 22/23
healthcare, female health, PCOS

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is an endocrine disease which causes imbalance of hormones produced in female body. It is a complex hormonal disorder that affects one-in-ten women worldwide, impacting their physical health, emotional well-being, and overall quality of life.Furthermore, PCOS causes insulin resistance that increases the risk of diabetes and cardiovascular diseases, endometrial cancer as well. Unfortunately, most information we can approach to PCOS care is often solely related to fertility, neglecting the women’s life experience themselves and the risks of serious diseases.


My project seeks to fill this gap by providing comprehensive support throughout the PCOS journey. By collaborating with women with PCOS and healthcare professionals, I aim to develop personalised strategies, resources, and tools that empower women to take control of their health, make informed goals, and lead fulfilling lives.

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What is PCOS

PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome), is an endocrine disease that affects metabolism in female bodies. It affects one-in-ten women worldwide, impacting their physical health, emotional well-being, and overall quality of life.  

In a polycystic ovary, the growth of eggs is abnormal. Their development is halted, and they release excess male hormones called androgens which have multiple effects on physiological functions and thusly cause symptoms of PCOS.

Common symptoms of PCOS

Common symptoms of PCOS include irregular menstrual periods, acne, pelvic pain, hirsutism, overweight, anxiety and infertility. These many symptoms not only compromise the physical wellbeing of patients but also create social anxieties with appearance changes.

Long-term health risks of PCOS patients

PCOS also significantly increases the risks of long-term diseases including diabetes, endometrial cancer, and cardiovascular disease. The most critical problem of PCOS is insulin resistance, which can lead to the development of diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

Social context

As global fertility rates decline, women in patriarchal societies are expected to bear children. Consequentially, despite the significant health issues caused by PCOS, it is mainly focused on infertility by the healthcare system and society. At the same time, as female consciousness becomes more widespread, more young women tend to delay their own childbearing, preferring to focus their energy and attention on their careers and interests rather than just having a child. However, it is this kind of thinking that makes them more susceptible to chronic health issues caused by PCOS.

With the emphasis on infertility in terms of PCOS, its other health issues are largely neglected. Patients without the intention to reproduce are likely uninformed of the dangers of PCOS and tend to ignore the importance of health.

Design for who

Listen to their voices:

"My whole life is affected by my PCOS, not just my ability to carry children"

"I first started noticing that things weren't right at the age of 13 or 14. The main symptom for me was the irregular periods, but I also have hair loss, acne, pelvic pain (especially when/if I ovulate), fatigue and easy weight gain. Four years after the initial doctor’s appointment I got an “official” PCOS diagnosis. I was prescribed Metformin to help ease my symptoms. For me all it did was make me sick, dizzy and lacking in appetite. I tried slow release Metformin but that had the same effect. Currently I am not undergoing any treatment for my PCOS.

My experience with the healthcare system has been pretty bad, if I am honest. The general attitude of the doctors I have visited has been “You don't want to get pregnant, therefore we don't want to know.” Whenever I went to a gyno appointment all they wanted to discuss was fertility treatment. At the time I was 17/18 years old I wasn't interested in getting pregnant (I'm still not interested at 21). I feel it is wrong that they seem to concentrate on either the getting pregnant aspect of having PCOS or the weight gain aspect of the condition. No one seems to remember that the fatigue and the hair loss also have a profound effect on my life and self esteem. I would love for doctors to be more aware of how my whole life is affected by my PCOS not just my ability to carry children."——Abi, female, UK, 21

"The NHS regard PCOS as primarily a condition affecting fertility, and will only treat you if you're trying to conceive"

"I was recently told by my GP that 'they don't even test for or attempt to diagnose PCOS unless it's causing problems with fertility'. I don't plan on having kids but is it generally the case that the NHS regard PCOS as primarily a condition affecting fertility, and will only treat you if you're trying to conceive? I'm wondering if I should try another (perhaps younger, female …) GP in the practice as I'm suffering with quite a few symptoms that I believe to be PCOS and it's making me quite depressed, but I left the last appointment feeling quite humiliated and I don't really know what to do now."——Anonymous, female, UK

"I was told by doctors that unless I was trying for a baby there was no treatment available"

"I am infertile, very heavy periods, having to have iron infusions every other month because of them, hirsutism, weight gain (until I had weight loss surgery). I was diagnosed at 16. I was very lucky, my GP sent me for tests after taking the pill caused me to bleed for 6 months solid and he realised there was something wrong with me hormonally. I was prescribed metformin, it made me very sick. And I was told by doctors that unless I was trying for a baby there was no treatment available.

At times it has felt like PCOS has robbed me of my womanhood, adulthood and independence, but there is a life possible with PCOS. While it's not curable, it is manageable if you push your health care professionals hard enough and join a great support group."——Anonymous

Many patients without plan to have children feel disrespected by the healthcare system. Their individual subjectivity is compromised while healthcare system only pays attention on infertility.

Why not patients who are in preparation of pregnancy?

1.    Different motivation:

Patients with a clear plan to conceive tend to have stronger motivation and dedication for treatment in order to have a baby. Under such strong motivation they would seek treatment more proactively, and thusly receive more help and support.

2.    Different accessibility:

Information regarding symptoms and complications other than infertility is much more difficult to find filter and find from the massive information on the Internet. Patients without reproductive intention are likely to neglect risks of PCOS and therefore drop attention on management of PCOS.

Problem statement

Many women with PCOS have limited options for self-help and health care besides medication, while they face the challenges that health care system may not respect individual subjectivity. Existing options often fail to meet the diverse preferences that enable people with PCOS to actively navigate their journey to health.


How might we create an inclusive and empowering healthcare experience for women with PCOS that respects their individual subjectivity, upholds their right to absolute control over their bodies, and helps them build habits of lifelong management?



I conducted desktop research with scientific literature and PCOS forums. I listened to over 60 PCOS patients’ stories, and conducted in-depth interviews with 8 young women from different countries. In addition, I also consulted medical experts and healthcare professionals in gynaecology, who provided professional perspectives for my research. With my ongoing research, I have realised the essentiality of life-long management and intervention for PCOS.



1.    Peer support and community atmosphere.

2.    Improve awareness of risks to enhance the persistent motivation of management.

3.    Diversified approach and integrated tools to customize personalized needs.

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