Polycystic ovary syndrome is a problem in which a woman’s hormones are out of balance; it mainly occurs in woman between the ages of 18 and 44. It may even affect girls as young as 11 years old. It can cause problems with your periods and make it difficult to get pregnant. PCOS also may cause unwanted changes in the way you look. If it isn’t treated, over time it can lead to serious health problems, such as diabetes and heart disease.
Most women with PCOS grow many small cysts on their ovaries. That is why it is called polycystic ovary syndrome. The cysts are not harmful but lead to hormone imbalances. Early diagnosis and treatment can help control the symptoms and prevent long-term problems.
About one in every 10 to 15 women in the United States suffer from PCOS.
The cause of PCOS is not fully understood, but genetics may be a factor. PCOS seems to run in families, so your chance of having it is higher if other women in your family have it or have irregular periods or diabetes. PCOS can be passed down from either your mother’s or father’s side. Some leading causes most people agree on are:
- Lack of physical activity
- Overproduction of testosterone (a male sex hormone found in women in small quantities).
- Insulin resistance is also a commonly cited cause for PCOS, as it is the main factor contributing to increased testosterone levels. Insulin is a hormone naturally produced by the body to lower blood sugar. During insulin resistance, the insulin becomes ineffective in lowering the blood sugar and it can raise to dangerous levels. This, in turn, triggers the body to produce more insulin. The cycle continues and ultimately causes a high blood insulin level.
PCOS is the most common cause of infertility among women. The disorder causes anovulatory infertility, in which there is an absence of ovulation. Ovulation is the reproductive process in which the ovaries produce a mature egg every month that may, or may not, get fertilized by sperm.
You may suffer all the symptoms of PCOS or a combination of a few. Here are some common signs and symptoms of PCOS that you should look out for.
1. Irregular Periods
This is the most telling, or direct, sign of PCOS. Teens often will experience irregular periods, but if this persists into your adult years than it can be an indication of PCOS. Irregular periods are caused by the hormone imbalance in your body. Your body produces too much testosterone and causes irregular periods.
2. Absence of Menstruation
This is a less common than irregular periods, but something to take note of. This sign becomes worrisome of PCOS when menstruation stops for 6 months or more. Just like irregular periods, this sign occurs when the body over produces testosterone, causing your ovaries to not release eggs.
3. Excessive Facial and Body Hair
Excessive hair growth on the face and body, hirsutism, is another side effect of excessinve testosterone. Most women will see this sign manifest on their face, upper lip and chin, but it can also occur on your chest and stomach area. PCOS is the most common cause of hirsutism and accounts for three out of four cases of it.
4. Hair Thinning and Loss
Hair thinning and hair loss can be a clear sign of PCOS. PCOS triggers an overload of testosterone in the body. The overactive testosterone travels to the scalp and converts to its derivative dihydrotestosterone (DHT) when it interacts with the enzyme found in hair follicles. The DHT then binds with the hair follicles and causes them to shrink. This slows down the hair’s growth process, causing it to become thinner and thinner.
If you notice that you are losing more hair when brushing or drying your hair it could be a sign of PCOS.
Preteen and teen acne is common among most adolescents. However, if your acne continues into and beyond your late 20s it can be a sign of PCOS. Make note though that acne can come and go throughout your life depending on other factors. Stress, diet and hormones can play a factor in acne developing in your later years, but if it is persistent acne in your later years it can be a sign of PCOS.
PCOS-associated acne commonly occurs around the cheeks, chin, jaw line and the upper neck. It is more likely to develop in the form of hard bumps under the skin rather than visibly overt bumps.
6. High Blood Pressure
High blood pressure often goes hand in hand with obesity and weight gain (another sign of PCOS). As your BMI and weight goes up your blood pressure tends to get higher and higher. Hypertension (high blood pressure) is a commonly occurring symptom in PCOS patients.
Stress is a by-product of any mental or physical illness. PCOS patients especially experience a lot of distress because of hirsutism. Stress is often felt because of the hormonal imbalance your body has.
Like most other hormonal imbalances, depression is a very common sign of PCOS. Since the body is not balanced and unable to produce all the hormones needed, most females with PCOS suffer from depression. This, along with stress, are the two most common signs of PCOS.