As is the case with many health concerns, it’s difficult to figure out what the issue is unless you’re aware of the symptoms to look for. Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) is a debilitating health condition that’s not only physically discomforting but also emotionally burdensome.
PCOS has a prevalence rate of about 6 to 21 percent in women of childbearing age and is a leading cause of infertility. In fact, about 72 percent of women experience infertility when they’re diagnosed with PCOS compared to only 16 percent of those who are not.
Knowing the numbers, it’s always a safe bet to get yourself checked preliminarily. There’s a whole sub-section of women that don’t realize they are at risk for PCOS and only get a diagnosis when they’re facing problems getting pregnant. Studies show that nearly 50 percent of PCOS diagnoses are not done appropriately so millions of women keep living with untreated ovarian dysfunction and menstrual irregularities.
The drawback of not diagnosing PCOS in time is that it comes with a score of side-effects and medical conditions that make life harder than necessary for the patient. Take for example, diabetes mellitus. Yes, it’s true. Untreated PCOS can put patients at an increased risk of developing Type-2 diabetes. This means they’re more likely to form insulin resistance in their bodies and with it they’ll have to cope with hypertension, metabolic disorders, and high cholesterol levels. If you’d like to know more about insulin resistance, click here.
What’s truly irksome is that there seems to be little awareness of PCOS-related issues. It’s not like the disease emerged only a few years ago. The disorder has been under study for 75 years.
But you shouldn’t let the lack of attention given to PCOS fool you. Be your own guard and know the causes, symptoms, and signs of PCOS. After all, there’s no better cure for an illness than its prevention.
What Is PCOS?
PCOS is a hormonal imbalance issue that affects about 5 to 10 percent of women across the United States. Known as the silent killer, PCOS is notorious for its two trademark symptoms; menstrual cycle irregularities and ovarian dysfunction. Allow us to explain this in a little more detail.
A woman’s ovaries have several follicles that are comprised of small sacs to hold an egg in place. Once the egg has matured, it leaves the sac and enters the uterus to get fertilized. Now this is where the trouble with PCOS begins. Women with the condition don’t experience proper ovulation cycles. The immature eggs in the follicles will clump together and form tiny cysts around the outer walls of the ovary and won’t release when they’re supposed to.
What’s the result of this? Women with PCOS tend to miss their periods and some don’t have them at all for long periods of time. And that explains why it’s the leading cause of infertility among women today.
What Are The Causes Of PCOS?
We haven’t got to that stage quite yet where we can confidently say; oh, this is it. PCOS is a complex issue and much needs to be done before we’re able to understand its underlying causes. Nonetheless, here are some explanations that might give you some valuable insight.
I consider insulin resistance the prime cause of PCOS because there’s an 80 percent PCOS prevalence rate among women who have insulin resistance problems. However, keep in mind that there are several risk factors that can exacerbate insulin resistance in you, such as a lack of physical activity and poor dietary habits.
Currently, a lot of research is being directed toward finding a correlation between PCOS and diabetes because insulin resistance lies at the center of both issues. Insulin is a type of hormone that’s produced in the pancreas and helps regulate glucose levels in your body. However, if you’re resistant to insulin, then your body isn’t going to be able to keep stable glucose levels. To counter this apparent ineffectiveness of insulin, the body produces more of it, thinking the system needs more. Excess insulin is linked with excess androgen production, which is another plausible explanation for PCOS.
Abnormal Hormone Excretion
High levels of androgens in the body lead to high levels of testosterone. The ovaries normally do produce some amounts of testosterone on a regular basis so the existence of male sex hormones isn’t a sign of alarm. Even males have some amount of progesterone and estrogen in their bodies. The problem lies in the excess. But where is all this testosterone coming from?
The pituitary gland located at the base of your brain is responsible for hormone secretion. In healthy females, it releases consistent amounts of follicle stimulating hormones (FSH) and luteinizing hormones (LH). These hormones signal the ovaries to produce the female sex hormones; progesterone and estrogen. But when the pituitary gland begins behaving abnormally, it signals an excess production of androgens like testosterone.
High levels of testosterone can lead to abnormal growth of hair in women such as coarse facial hair. It can also cause chronic acne that can be pretty painful.
Studies show that immediate family members of women with PCOS are at a 50 percent higher risk of developing PCOS. There isn’t one particular gene that can indicate PCOS prevalence in a woman, but family history can play a key role in determining many health conditions.
Other Possible Causes and Risk Factors for PCOS
- Metabolic syndrome
- Premature puberty
- Alcohol consumption
- Sedentary lifestyle
Signs That You Might Have PCOS
With researchers still working to determine the causes of PCOS, it’s difficult to say who fits the diagnostic criteria. PCOS is a complex issue and not everyone experiences all the symptoms listed.
One of the reasons why so many women remain elusive to a PCOS diagnosis is because doctors find it hard to detect cystic ovaries. Even if you go for a gynecological ultrasound, there’s no surefire way of knowing that you have the disease because some women tend to have normal looking ovaries even with PCOS.
A better option would be to look for signs of androgen excess. I’ve told you about high testosterone levels but that’s just one part of the picture. To get the big picture on PCOS you’ll have to get tested for various types of androgens in your body.
So what do you do until you’ve got a test scheduled? There’s got to be some observable signs of PCOS right? Correct. Here’s a list of things you should watch out for to know if you’ve got PCOS.
1. Problems in Ovulation Cycle
Ovulatory dysfunction is a key sign of PCOS and this can be noted in the irregularities of your menstrual cycle. There are two kinds of things you should be on the lookout for; if you’re missing out on some period cycles then you’ve likely got amenorrhea. However, if you’ve got irregular or delayed periods then you’re showing signs of oligomenorrhea. Both these conditions are closely linked with infertility among adult women and occur as key signs of PCOS.
2. Dark Patches on the Skin
If you’re noticing small circular patches emerging on your neck that are darker than your skin color then this might be a sign to note down. Dark patches on the back of the neck or sometimes on the elbows, symbolize a hormonal imbalance.
Many at times this imbalance may be caused due to insulin resistance, indicating that the woman’s body is facing difficulty regulating glucose levels. Hold a consultation to find out if it’s an impending sign of diabetes or PCOS.
Pimples aren’t just a thing of puberty. They can happen to adults too and when they do, they’re usually telling you it’s a sign of something internally wrong. What happens with PCOS acne is that the androgen excess in your body triggers the overproduction of testosterone and that hyper-activates your sebaceous glands. This, in turn, produces lots of sebum and clogs the pores of your skin, trapping bacteria in them. Inflammation begins and you’re met with red swelling and lesions on your skin. If you’re at risk of PCOS then you’re likely to get acne around the lower half of your face, such as the jaw, chin and neck.
4. Feelings of Fatigue
Trouble falling asleep or waking up feeling tired can be among the initial signs of PCOS. Insomnia and sleep apnea are both closely linked with the disease and are considered common by-products.
Sleep apnea, in particular, can occur even when you’re getting the recommended hours of sleep. Feeling tired during your waking hours can also be linked with insulin problems so be sure to get yourself checked.
5. Cravings for Certain Kinds of Food
Insulin problems will naturally make you crave certain sweet foods and with PCOS you’re likely to pine over the carbohydrates. This is because your cells need glucose for energy, but with an insulin resistance they’re unable to digest starchy foods for energy. I suggest you figure out a nutritional meal plan for your condition here.
When we‘re talking about insulin, let’s also address the elephant in the room. Diabetes is closely linked with the onset of PCOS. Women experiencing diabetes can also experience a variety of other health issues like high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and the increased risk of incurring a stroke. Match that with PCOS and there’s also a heightened risk of endometrial cancer.
7. Excessive Hair Growth
Hirsutism is the name of the condition that causes women with PCOS to grow hair in places where they normally don’t, such as the face, chest, or the abdominal area. You can link this back to the overproduction of male sex hormones during PCOS and the high levels of testosterone in the ovaries. Hair loss might be a sign that you need a Hormone Makeover
8. Thinning of Hair
Don’t let this sign confuse you. You might be growing hair in new places on your face and body but the scalp could be struggling to maintain your healthy locks. With high levels of testosterone, you can experience male patterned baldness—which is different from mild hair fall issues. If you suffer with hair loss, this video titled, “Top 5 reasons for Hair loss” explains the hormones that are typically some of the culprits.
9. Depression and Anxiety
There can be multiple confounding factors that can affect the onset of depression and anxiety in women but you shouldn’t count PCOS out of the list. Research suggests that women diagnosed with PCOS should also be screened for any underlying mental health issues since they’re more at risk. Mood changes are a common sign of PCOS. If you’re already struggling with your mental health, hormonal imbalances from PCOS can make you feel worse. Here’s a good read on the foods you should avoid for better mental health.
Final Thoughts To Remember about todays article.
PCOS is a hormonal imbalance issue that can severely disrupt the endocrine system and lead to infertility among women of childbearing age. It’s a fairly common condition but detecting ovarian cysts can be tricky. However, the lack of diagnosis shouldn’t deter anyone from being on their guard. Untreated PCOS can give birth to several health problems. One of the most commonly associated issues with PCOS is insulin resistance.
The body’s inability to utilize insulin can trigger a spiral of endocrine issues that manifest themselves in ways. Excess hair growth, acne, and patches on the skin can confuse anyone to think it’s a passing dermatological issue.
That’s why it’s recommended that women remain knowledgeable about all possible signs of PCOS so they can seek treatment at the earliest.
Want Professional Help For PCOS Related Issues?
Dr. Hagmeyer clinic is leading the way in helping women with hormonal issues find ways to receive an early diagnosis. If you would like to learn more about working with Dr Hagmeyer or becoming a patient, take a few minutes and tell us a bit more about your health history. If Dr Hagmeyer and his team feels they can help, we will send you a link to schedule an initial free 15 minute consult.
If you’re not sure about the signs of PCOS and need help then simply fill out this health questionnaire and a member of my team will reach out to you very soon.