PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome) is one of the most common causes of female infertility in the U.S. and, because it is involves hormone imbalance and insulin resistance, women with PCOS are at higher risk for developing additional serious health conditions such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease. It is also a difficult disease to diagnose by many doctors not familiar with the possible signs and symptoms.
Do You Recognize Any of These Typical Signs of PCOS?
While some women with PCOS do not follow a typical phenotype (external features or characteristics), most women with PCOS experience at least one, if not all, of the most common signs – or the PCOS “red flags.”
Irregular (or hardly any) periods
The multiple cysts indicative of polycystic ovarian syndrome, along with hormone imbalance, can prevent regular ovulation. As a result, most women with PCOS have irregular periods – often going months at a time without one. While this may be a “norm” for them, it’s important that women and men understand that irregular periods are rarely “normal,” and almost always indicate an underlying issue.
Shaped like an apple
Most women with PCOS are overweight, with the majority of their weight carried in the middle and the face. This can result in a body shape that is apple-like, with arms and legs that seem disproportionately thinner than the body. You may struggle to lose any weight at all regardless of how hard you try, which is extremely disheartening. The good news is that the right PCOS diet (typically a low-carb diet such as the revised Adkins or South Beach diet) can help with this because it addresses one of PCOS’s biggest issues – insulin resistance.
Insatiable sugar cravings
And that leads us to another symptom of PCOS: insatiable sugar cravings. These women are typically insulin resistant but they don’t know it. As a result, these patients experience intense blood sugar spikes and crashes. When blood sugar levels plummet, they crave sweets – which causes a spike that leads to another crash. It’s a vicious cycle and is often a source of shame. Depending on the severity of PCOS or the symptoms, eating and exercising as if you have diabetes can help tremendously. Your doctor may also prescribe Metformin or a similar drug to support balanced blood sugar levels.
Thinning hair on top, extra hair on face, chest and/or back
Women with PCOS have higher androgen (male hormone) levels. As a result, their hair patterns mimic males’ – with thinner hair on the scalp and excess hair growth on the face, chest, back and/or arms.
While other women may have to contend with a whisker-esque hair here or there from time to time, women with PCOS often shave or wax regularly to avoid growing a mustache/beard. Those elevated androgen levels are another reason why women with PCOS don’t ovulate regularly.
Pelvic pain and discomfort
As you can imagine, all those ovarian cysts (which show up on an ultrasound looking like a “string of pearls”) cause inflammation and swelling in the pelvis and abdomen. If you have PCOS, you’re more likely to experience pelvic and lower abdominal discomfort, pain and tenderness. If you do have periods, they may be more painful than normal.
Moodiness, irritability and sleep disorders
Hormone imbalance takes its toll on moods and sleep – as women going through menopause can tell you. Because PCOS is characterized by hormone imbalance, you may find you are moody and irritable, you may have trouble sleeping and that exacerbates moodiness, and women with PCOS are more likely to experience depression.
Do some of these signs and symptoms ring a bell for you? Do you recognize them in someone you know and love? It’s important to spread the word about these common symptoms of PCOS so women get the attention and treatment they need to be healthy, happy, whole and fertile!
Schedule a consultation with Women’s Health Associates to experience healthcare focused on your physical and emotional health and wellness.