Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a common hormonal disorder. Young women between the age of 18 and 44 are the most-affected demographic, though girls as young as 11 can develop PCOS. The condition can lead to complications such as infertility, diabetes and liver disease. Obesity and lack of physical activity can further worsen PCOS. It is difficult to diagnose PCOS in its early stages, due to the non-specificity of and seeming disconnect between the symptoms.
Irregular Menstrual Bleeding
Polycystic ovary syndrome triggers the creation of excess testosterone, upsetting the body’s hormonal balance and causing cysts to develop that prevent the ovaries from releasing eggs. In most cases, this interrupts menstruation. In other cases, the menses can become infrequent, irregular or even prolonged. This symptom often goes unnoticed when it occurs in teenagers and young women because it is common for cycles to be irregular at a young age.
Amenorrhea is defined as the absence of menstrual periods; it can be primary — when a woman never had menstrual periods — or secondary when experienced by a woman who was previously menstruating. Most often, PCOS cause secondary amenorrhea, although in some cases this condition had been associated with primary amenorrhea as well. Absent menstruation for six months or more is a sign of increased severity because it indicates testosterone levels are so high that they inhibit menstruation completely. Doctors will recommend various tests to rule out other conditions that may cause amenorrhea.
Excess Body and Facial Hair
Excessive growth of hair on the female body is medically known as hirsutism. This noticeable symptom is a result of sudden and significant testosterone spikes and is a common symptom of PCOS. It can have psychological consequences such as stress and depression, which can further affect the quality of life.
Sudden Thinning and Loss of Hair
Most women attribute more-than-normal hair loss to a new shampoo or over-brushing. Women with PCOS often notice hair on their pillows in the morning and may note less volume when brushing or styling. Though this may seem a surprising symptom to follow excess hair growth in other parts of the body, too much testosterone in the female body can affect the scalp. This condition, androgenic alopecia or a male-pattern hair loss, is often seen in women with PCOS.
People often battle acne during their teenage years due to clogged pores and hormone fluctuations, and some women have breakouts before they get their periods. If acne is experienced long term or becomes more severe, with cysts, it could be a sign of PCOS. Male hormones are responsible for making the skin oilier than usual and causing breakouts. Most women with PCOS will develop acne on the upper neck, jaw, and cheekbones.
Most women with PCOS have difficulty losing weight. Up to 80 percent of women with PCOS are overweight or obese, and obesity further aggravates the condition and increases the chance of developing diabetes. This is a direct result of hormone imbalances. Any unexpected weight issues that seem unaffected by diet or fitness should prompt a woman to see a doctor.
PCOS often causes rises in blood pressure or hypertension. This is a secondary symptom, which means it is not caused by PCOS itself but by the development of insulin resistance and being overweight. If not discovered early, PCOS can cause heart problems and many other complications. Anyone with unexplained hypertension should speak to a medical practitioner.
Acanthosis nigricans is a skin abnormality that manifests as black discolorations in skin folds on the neck, forehead, breasts, thighs, and groin. Insulin resistance and spikes cause the skin to turn black or brown in these places. Some people with PCOS also develop skin tags. One study suggested 68% of people with these symptoms have PCOS.
The culmination of symptoms of any disorder can lead to stress. Women with PCOS may begin to feel isolated, afraid, or ashamed of their condition, which can lead to work or school absences and avoiding social activities. Some women find it beneficial to speak to a psychologist once they have received a diagnosis.
Stress and isolation can lead to depression, but this isn’t the only possible cause of this secondary condition in women with PCOS. Depression can also be brought about by the hormonal imbalance itself, which can cause mood fluctuations as well as other general symptoms such as fatigue and insomnia.