Do you feel like a hormonal teenager with mood swings and acne? Even worse, maybe you’re having trouble getting pregnant or experience irregular menstrual periods. Perhaps you’ve noticed a 5 o’clock shadow and thinning hair on your scalp. When your symptoms seem to pile up and you can’t seem to figure out what’s going on, you might have polycystic ovary syndrome, or PCOS.
Symptoms of PCOS
When you have PCOS, you may be experiencing several seemingly random, unrelated symptoms. PCOS affects your hormones dramatically, so you may experience these symptoms:
- Hair loss from your scalp and/or hair growth (hirsutism) in unexpected places
- Oily skin and acne problems
- Infertility (ovulation problems) or repeat miscarriages
- Weight gain, especially around your waist
- Menstrual problems
- Depression and/or mood swings
Although you may experience all or many of the above symptoms, your doctor will likely diagnose PCOS when you have irregular periods, excess androgen (male hormone), and polycystic ovaries (as seen on ultrasound).
What causes polycystic ovary syndrome?
Doctors have yet to find the exact cause of PCOS. However, several factors may play a role in whether or not you develop PCOS. These include:
- Heredity. If you have family members with PCOS or a history of diabetes, you’re more likely to develop PCOS.
- Too much insulin. When you have too much of this hormone, your cells become resistant to it. This can cause increased androgen production and difficulty ovulating.
- High levels of androgen. When your ovaries produce too much androgen, you may develop hirsutism and acne.
- Inflammation. Women with PCOS have a type of low-grade inflammation that stimulates your ovaries to produce androgens.
Health Complications Related to PCOS
Polycystic ovary syndrome can result in a host of health issues and complications. Obesity and insulin resistance can also make your symptoms worse. PCOS complications include:
- Gestational diabetes or high blood pressure during pregnancy
- Miscarriage or premature birth
- Type 2 diabetes or prediabetes
- Sleep apnea
- Depression, anxiety, and eating disorders
- Endometrial cancer
- Metabolic syndrome
- Nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (severe liver inflammation)
- Abnormal uterine bleeding
Treatment of polycystic ovary syndrome
PCOS can cause many painful and difficult symptoms. Unfortunately, there’s no cure for PCOS. That being said, there are things you can do to ease the symptoms. You and your doctor should work together to find a treatment plan that will help you avoid many of the more severe complications of PCOS like diabetes and heart disease.
Even with no cure, you have the power to ease the symptoms of PCOS. There are certain lifestyle changes and treatments you can undergo to relieve your symptoms.
Incorporate good nutrition and regular physical activity. By losing weight you’ll help your body improve your hormone levels. Even losing 10% of your body weight can make a difference in your menstrual period and ovulation.
Remove excess hair and slow down the future growth of your hair. Excess hair can be embarrassing. But just because you have PCOS doesn’t mean you have to live with the extra hair. There are many facial hair removal techniques available, including creams, waxing, laser hair removal, and electrolysis. Keep in mind that because your hormones fluctuate with PCOS, you may have to remove hair more than once, even with treatments like laser hair removal. Laser hair removal and electrolysis must also be performed by a qualified professional.
Your doctor might prescribe medication to help manage the symptoms of PCOS. These medications might include:
- Metformin. This medication improves your body’s ability to lower blood sugar, insulin, and androgen levels. Metformin can help restart your ovulation, and may even help you lose weight and improve cholesterol levels.
- Hormonal birth control. If you don’t want to get pregnant, birth control can help regulate your menstrual cycle, lower your risk of endometrial cancer, improve acne, and reduce extra facial hair.
- Anti-androgen medicines. Because anti-androgen medicines reduce androgens in your system, they can reduce hair loss on your scalp, reduce facial and body hair growth, and improve acne. Don’t take these medications during pregnancy.
When to see a doctor
Not sure when you should worry about your PCOS? If you’re experiencing the following symptoms, you should talk to your doctor as soon as possible:
- Vaginal bleeding that soaks through your usual pad or tampon every hour for more than two hours (see your doctor immediately)
- Irregular menstrual cycles
- You’ve been trying unsuccessfully to get pregnant for more than 12 months
- You’re experiencing symptoms of diabetes (frequent urination, increased thirst, blurred vision, tingling or numbness in your hands and feet, or an increase in appetite)
- You’re suffering with depression or mood swings
Whether you have these symptoms or not, anytime you have questions or concerns about your PCOS is a good time to see your doctor. He or she can talk to you more about your symptoms and what you can do to improve them.