Sometimes when women get a feeling they might have a health issue, they might find it difficult to pinpoint exactly what their symptoms mean. They may feel like the things they are noticing are vague or perhaps not connected to each other. For example, if a woman has gained weight recently, she might not think it could be related to the flashes of pelvic pain she’s started to feel – but those two things combined could actually be a red flag. They’re just two of several symptoms of Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).
What is PCOS? First, understand that this disorder is not rare. About one in 10 women in the United States of childbearing age are diagnosed with it. PCOS is a hormone disorder that can cause infertility problems as well as a list of other health issues. It gets its name because some – but not all – women who have PCOS are found to have tiny, fluid-filled cysts on their ovaries, which then fail to regularly release eggs, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Because there is no easy test to determine if someone has PCOS, diagnosis and treatment depends on women having frank conversations with their health care provider. It’s important for women to discuss any changes in their body or symptoms they might be having so their doctor can assess what’s normal and what is not. With conditions like this, it’s important that women be an advocate for their own health.
Symptoms and Signs. Women with PCOS may have all of these symptoms or just a couple. Typically, a person needs to have at least two of these symptoms to be diagnosed. The more overweight a person is, the worse their symptoms can be. That’s why it’s vital that women keep the lines of communication open with their doctor.
- High level of androgen, a male hormone: This hormonal imbalance can cause male-pattern baldness in women, severe acne, or a larger-than-normal amount of facial or body hair.
- Irregular menstrual periods: Someone noticing an odd pattern to their periods should talk to their doctor, as this is the most common sign of PCOS. The imbalance can cause periods that are longer or shorter than normal, or periods separated by more than 35 days. Menstrual flow can also be abnormally heavy.
- Polycystic ovaries: Only a doctor can determine if a woman’s ovaries are enlarged. They may also have follicles or cysts surrounding the eggs. If this happens, it’s likely the ovaries won’t function properly.
- Skin changes: Darker skin or skin tags on the neck or under arms.
While there is no specific cause, some doctors believe PCOS could run in families and affect people at a higher rate if they are overweight. There is also evidence it is linked to people whose bodies have trouble producing the right amount of insulin, according to WebMD.
Related health issues. Women with PCOS can find that this hormonal issue often comes with other side effects. These could include:
- Higher risk of uterine cancer
- Inability to get pregnant
- A combination of high blood pressure, high blood sugar and high cholesterol, which increases the risk for heart disease
Treatment. Erasing the symptoms of PCOS often relies on weight loss, a healthier diet and sometimes medication. The approach often depends on whether the woman plans to have children, as some drug options will help women get their ovulation back on track.