Polycystic Ovary Syndrome

Signs and Symptoms of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome

By now, you’re likely aware that your hormones have a huge impact on your body. Hormones govern a wide range of essential bodily functions—from metabolism to hair growth to menstruation. However, in female patients with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), male hormones (or androgens) become imbalanced and can cause serious complications, even increase the risk of certain chronic diseases, such as type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

Statistics from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimate that roughly 1 in 20 women in their childbearing years (that’s 5-million U.S. women) have PCOS. A combination of the following symptoms may indicate PCOS…

1. Adult Acne

You did your time as a teenager with acne, however, you were hoping that by your mid-30s the pimples would be gone for good. Akin to acne during puberty, adult acne is often a sign of hormone imbalance. Particularly if pimples flare up in “hormonally sensitive” areas such as the upper neck, cheeks, jawline, or lower third of the face.

According to Bethanee Schlosser, MD, Director of the Women’s Skin Health Program at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, high levels of androgen hormones in PCOS patients will spur acne outbreaks. Dr. Schlosser explains, “Any female patient who presents to me with either persistent acne…past the age of 25…or starting after age 25…I evaluate for PCOS.”

2. Type 2 Diabetes

Even though research from the American Diabetes Association (ADA) claims the link between PCOS and insulin resistance is still unknown, many women with PCOS also have type 2 diabetes.

ADA studies note that evidence suggests that PCOS affects the ability of cells to properly utilize the hormone that regulates glucose in the blood, and resulting in high blood sugar that often leads to a type 2 diabetes diagnosis. Further research indicates that high levels of that hormone can contribute to increased production of androgens, which makes the symptoms of PCOS more severe.

3. Infertility

Leading medical experts consider PCOS a preeminent cause of infertility. According to WebMD, because PCOS causes excessive androgen production and inadequate progesterone for the menstrual cycle, irregular periods and/or absence of ovulation may occur.

With PCOS, incomplete menstruation often leads to underdeveloped eggs that become ovarian cysts. These cysts can block the route of healthy eggs to the uterus that is required for a successful pregnancy.

4. Excessive Hair Growth

While each and every one of us have plucked a super long hair from our chins at some point. Anuja Dokras, MD, Director of the Penn Polycystic Ovary Syndrome Center, says occasional odd hairs sprouting up are nothing to cause alarm.

However, Dr. Dokras notes that significant hair growth (or hirsutism) on the upper lip, chin, and sides of the face (i.e., sideburns) is considered an early warning sign of PCOS and should be brought to your doctor’s attention. If a patient with PCOS does get pregnant, doctors will often refer them to an specialist in obstetrics and gynecology (OB-GYN) who specializes in high-risk pregnancies (i.e., risk of premature births, miscarriages, and gestational diabetes).

5. Irregular Menstruation

There are a variety of reasons why your monthly cycle may be late, totally unpredictable, light, heavy, or not show up entirely. However, in patients with PCOS, irregular periods (oligomenorrhea) are often among the warning signs.

PCOS causes menstruation irregularities due to heightened androgen levels, which leaves the ovaries unable to produce adequate levels of the female hormone progesterone to trigger the normal monthly menstrual cycle. According to PCOS.com, “Women with PCOS can fail to menstruate for a few months…[only to] experience an extremely heavy period, followed by spotting later in the same month.”

6. Unexplained and Sudden Weight Gain

There are many reasons why our weight will fluctuate throughout our lifetime, and not all of those reasons are due to a chronic illness or disorder. According to research from the Cleveland Clinic, unexplained and sudden weight loss may be an indication of PCOS, but it can’t be the only symptom.

The Cleveland Clinic notes that sudden weight gain in the abdominal area and upper body, without a reason and that’s difficult to lose, can be among the collective symptoms of PCOS.

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Dr. Gerald Morris

Gerald Morris, MD is a physician (Family Medicine/Internal Medicine) with over 20 years expertise in the medical arena. Dr. Morris has spent time as a clinician, clinical research coordinator/manager, medical writer, and instructor. He is a proponent of patient education as a tool in the diagnosis and treatment of acute and chronic medical conditions. Hence, his contribution to articles on Activebeat.