Polycystic ovary syndrome (or PCOS) is a hormonal disorder that affects women. This condition typically happens to women of reproductive age.
According to Penn Medicine, about 5 – 10% of childbearing women in the U.S have PCOS. It is one of the most common hormonal disorders that affects roughly about 5 million women in the U.S alone.
In PCOS, the ovaries can develop numerous fluid-filled cysts or sacs, which can prevent the egg from ovulating. Not all women with this disorder, however, develop cysts.
Because of its effect on the hormones, this condition can cause female infertility. It can also increase the chances of developing other health issues like diabetes and heart disease later in life.
Unfortunately, PCOS doesn’t have a cure but its symptoms can be managed. Early diagnosis is essential for better management of this disorder. When treatment is delayed, symptoms can worsen.
What are the symptoms of PCOS? Signs and symptoms of this chronic illness can differ from person to person. Some women may have fewer symptoms, while others may be affected more and experience more symptoms.
This hormone disorder generally affects the reproductive organs, particularly the ovaries. The ovaries grow small, fluid-filled sacs or cysts. Because of this, the levels of hormones produced become imbalanced.
Polycystic ovary syndrome can be difficult to diagnose because PCOS symptoms can be similar to other disorders. In fact, a lot of women already have it but may not be aware. In one study published in the National Library of Medicine, up to 70% of women who had PCOS hadn’t been diagnosed.
Here are the most common PCOS symptoms:
1. Irregular periods or absent periods
One of the most common symptoms of PCOS is an irregularity in the menstrual cycle. This is usually the first sign that women notice and often leads to the discovery of the disorder. This becomes more noticeable when women are trying to get pregnant and having a hard time doing so because of irregular periods.
Typically, an average menstrual cycle lasts for 28 days. Because PCOS can affect the levels of androgens and insulin in the body, this can disrupt the monthly cycle of ovulation, resulting in irregular menstrual cycles.
Irregular periods can mean:
- cycles that are shorter than 21 days
- having less than 8 periods in a span of a year
- menstrual cycles longer than 35 days
- having abnormally heavy periods
Not all women who have PCOS present this symptom. There are some who have regular periods but still have PCOS.
2. Fertility problems
Having PCOS doesn’t mean you automatically can’t get pregnant. In fact, there are a lot of women diagnosed with this disorder who have been able to conceive naturally. However, this condition can cause problems with fertility and makes it difficult to conceive.
This is because ovulation is critical in getting pregnant. When an egg released is unhealthy, this will not be fertilized. The imbalance of hormones prevents the release of a healthy egg, which makes ovulation difficult or impossible.
Because women with PCOS have irregular or missed periods, it can also be hard to determine the exact time when you are ovulating. However, there are fertility treatments and methods that can help boost your chances of getting pregnant.
3. Excessive facial and body hair
Hirsutism is a condition of having excessive facial and body hair. This is commonly associated with hormonal disorders like PCOS. According to statistics, this affects about 70% – 80% of women with PCOS.
Because of the overproduction of androgens – a group of male hormones which includes testosterone, excess hair growth happens. The hairs usually appear on the face, neck, chest, back, and toes.
This condition typically isn’t preventable, unless PCOS is treated. However, losing weight when you have PCOS can lower the risk of developing hirsutism.
4. Thinning of hair
Hair loss or thinning hair, also called androgenic alopecia, is another effect of too much androgens or male hormones in the system.
It is normal to shed about 50 – 150 hair strands every day. However, if you are losing more than this amount, it could be a sign of hormonal imbalance or PCOS. Aside from excessive hair fall, androgenic alopecia can also be noticed on the top of the scalp, on the part, and on top of the temple region.
Hair loss due to PCOS usually happens at the root or follicle, but hair breakage can also happen more often, as the hair can also become more dry and damaged.
5. Weight gain
Women with PCOS also have a higher chance of weight gain. More than half of women who have this disorder are overweight.
This is because insulin – the hormone responsible for controlling and regulating blood sugar – is not properly secreted and used by the body when you have PCOS. The body overproduces insulin, which results in storing too much fat in the system, mostly in the midsection or belly area.
If you are having a hard time losing weight or noticing excessive belly fat despite exercise and diet changes, your body could be producing too much insulin.
Because of the excess androgens or male hormones produced in PCOS, sebum and skin cell production also increases. Androgens cause the skin’s glands to overproduce oil.
When oil, sebum, and bacteria become trapped under dead skin cells, this can lead to inflammation and acne.
Pimples and acne can appear not just on the face but also on the neck, chest, and upper back.
7. Dark Skin Patches
While darkening of the skin is not directly caused by PCOS, this can happen because of diabetes. Insulin problems can lead to diabetes and this can cause discoloration of the skin, also known as Acanthosis Nigricans.
These darkened skin patches typically occur on the armpits, groin, neck, vulva, elbows, knees, knuckles, and lip area. It can also sometimes appear on the palms and soles of the feet.
This symptom more commonly presents itself in obese hyper-androgenic women.
8. High Blood Pressure
Many women who have PCOS also have high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Because of this, women with PCOS have a higher risk of developing heart disease.
Weight gain and insulin resistance associated with PCOS cause high cholesterol, which leads to high blood pressure. Over time, chronic high blood pressure can lead to heart problems.
What Causes PCOS?
Medical experts have yet to figure out the exact cause of Polycystic ovary syndrome. However, it is believed that your genes can contribute to the condition. Studies have found out that PCOS commonly runs in families. This means that if your sister, mother, daughter or grandmother has or had PCOS, you are more at risk of developing the illness.
Your lifestyle and environment are also factors that can increase your risk of having PCOS. If you are overweight or obese, you are more likely to be diagnosed with PCOS.
FAQs About PCOS
If you’ve been diagnosed with Polycystic ovary syndrome, know that you are not alone. This illness is more common than you think and affects many women.
Want to learn more about PCOS? It helps if you learn as much as you can about this illness. Educating yourself about the disease will better help you understand what to do next. It is also crucial to get checked by a doctor. An early diagnosis can prevent the disease from leading to more serious health complications.
Here are some of the most frequently asked questions about Polycystic ovary syndrome:
What are the early signs of PCOS?
The most common sign to watch out for is irregular menstruation. Periods that are very heavy, very light, or missed periods can indicate that there is something wrong with your hormones. Another early sign of PCOS is excess hair growth on the face and body, which indicates a surge in androgens or male hormones.
When should I go to the doctor?
Just like any health issue, early diagnosis is crucial in preventing serious complications. If you experience two or more symptoms, it is best to seek medical care. Doing this early can help you better control your symptoms. When left untreated, you will have a higher risk of developing diabetes and symptoms can be harder to treat.
If you are trying to get pregnant, it is also advisable to go to a physician who is a specialist in reproductive medicine. You will be given medication to help regulate your hormones and help you ovulate. Regular check-ups and monitoring may be needed to make sure you are on the right track.
How is PCOS diagnosed?
Your doctor will usually examine your medical history, including indications of the disease in your family history. A thorough physical examination will be done, as well as blood tests to measure hormones and insulin levels. Imaging tests can also be done to check the state of the ovaries.
Does PCOS have a cure?
Unfortunately, PCOS doesn’t have a permanent cure. However, it can be managed. There are many women with PCOS who have a great quality of life, with the right treatment and medications.
Can you still get pregnant with PCOS?
Yes, you can still get pregnant even if you have PCOS. However, it will be much more difficult because ovulation may not occur regularly. Lifestyle changes and a nutritious diet can help increase the chances of getting pregnant. Additionally, fertility treatments and medications are also available to help boost your chances of ovulation. The ideal fertility treatment will depend on each individual, so it is best to consult with a physician.
Is PCOS life-threatening?
A PCOS diagnosis doesn’t mean that your life is over. While it is a chronic illness, it is not immediately life-threatening. However, there are long-term health risks associated with this disorder. If left untreated, PCOS can lead to more serious illnesses like hypertension, diabetes, endometrial cancer, and heart disease. Early diagnosis and treatment usually prevent PCOS from becoming worse.
How does PCOS make you feel?
PCOS not only affects the body physically, but it can also have an effect on your emotional well-being. Women who have been diagnosed with this illness are more prone to having anxiety and depression. Aside from the worry and fear that comes with any sickness, the imbalance of hormones can also cause anxiety and stress levels to increase.
Because of the emotional toll that this can take, emotional therapy may also be necessary. Stress can make your symptoms even worse, so it is important to keep your stress levels low. Rest, therapy, and regular self-care can help in bringing your stress levels down.
What foods should you eat when you have PCOS?
A healthy, nutritious diet is important when you have PCOS. Leafy vegetables, low-fat foods, and anti-inflammatory foods like berries and fatty fish can help keep symptoms at bay. Avoid foods that are processed, fried, high in sugar, high in fat and red meat.
Aside from dietary changes, regularly exercising can also help manage your symptoms. Light to moderate exercises like walking, jogging, and swimming are all great exercises that help with PCOS. It is best to maintain an ideal weight to prevent getting diabetes.
How can you prevent getting PCOS?
Unfortunately, there is no known prevention of Polycystic ovary syndrome. However, proper nutrition and weight management can help avoid progressing into more serious illnesses like diabetes and cardiovascular problems. Many people with PCOS are able to manage their symptoms well and live to old age.
Polycystic ovary syndrome is a hormonal disorder that happens to women of reproductive age. This chronic illness causes an imbalance of hormones that can make it hard for women to ovulate and get pregnant. Additionally, overproduction of male hormones can lead to symptoms like excess facial and body hair, acne, and dark skin patches.
While PCOS is a chronic condition and there is no known cure for it yet, its symptoms can be controlled and managed. Early treatment, along with lifestyle and dietary changes all effectively help in preventing this condition to progress into a more serious disease.