Hormones are a necessary evil. Part of the endocrine system, they're super-important—they're our body's chemical messengers that coordinate processes big and small, from your metabolism and fertility to hair growth and how often you have to go to the bathroom. Thing is, they're prone to misbehaving, and problems can range from embarrassing, like hair growth in places you really don't want it, to serious, like an increased risk for type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
One common type of hormonal issue is polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), a reproductive problem that affects between 8 and 20 percent of women. It occurs when women have an excess of androgens, or male hormones. As the name suggests, many women develop cysts on their ovaries (though "polycystic" is somewhat misleading, since not all women get them).
Many women don't even realise they have PCOS, says gynaecologist Dr Anuja Dokras. That's because PCOS shows up as any combination of a number of different symptoms, and is therefore tough to diagnose. Here, six signs of PCOS you might want to schedule an appointment with your doctor.
(Want to pick up some healthier habits? Sign up for FREE to get healthy living tips, weight loss inspiration, slimming recipes and more delivered straight to your inbox!)
Your cycles are irregular.
Can't remember when you had your last period? That could be a sign of PCOS. Three main symptoms are used in diagnosis, Dr Dokras says, and irregular periods are a major sign. Not only do women with PCOS have high levels of male hormones, but their ovaries are unable to produce enough progesterone (a female hormone) to have a normal menstrual cycle. So women with PCOS often end up skipping periods, or missing them altogether.
You're an adult, but you just can't shake your acne.
A face full of pimples post-puberty is symptom #2 in getting an official diagnosis, Dr Dokras says. Since an influx of hormones at puberty often causes acne, it's understandable that the excess hormones caused by PCOS would do the same.
You're growing hair in unexpected places.
If you have the occasional chin hair, don't worry. A few hairs out of place likely isn't a sign of PCOS, but if you're growing significant hair on your chin, sideburns, upper lip, or other places where you wouldn't expect to have hair, then Dr Dokras says you need to check in with your doctor. It's called hirsutism, and is the third major symptom of PCOS.
And you're losing hair from the one place you want it.
While elevated androgen levels can make you grow hair in places you don't want it, sadly, it can also cause shedding from your scalp. It doesn't happen in every case, but some women with PCOS have male-pattern baldness, where they lose hair from the sides of the hair line and back of the scalp.
You can't get pregnant.
PCOS is a leading cause of infertility. When your body doesn't create enough progesterone for a complete menstrual cycle, it causes undeveloped eggs to turn into cysts in your ovaries. The cysts then prevent healthy eggs from travelling down your fallopian tubes and into your uterus.
You're pre-diabetic, or have type 2 diabetes.
Although doctors aren't completely clear on why, PCOS has been linked with insulin resistance, in which cells are unable to use insulin correctly leading to high blood sugar. Over time, and as it goes untreated, this could cause type 2 diabetes.
You've gained weight.
Think back. Did you gain weight at some point in your life quickly and unexpectedly? PCOS could've been the culprit, especially if it's now difficult for you to lose the extra kilos. Dokras says weight gain should not be the sole symptom for diagnosis, but it can be one of multiple signs that something is going on. And PCOS specifically causes weight gain in the upper body and abdomen.
So what can you do?
If you've noticed multiple of these symptoms - especially missed periods, acne and hair growth - check in with your doctor or endocrinologist for a blood test. Once you get results, the doctor may also suggest a vaginal ultrasound to check for cysts, although not all women who have PCOS develop ovarian cysts. Unfortunately, there isn't a standard treatment for PCOS so treatment is very personalized, Dokras says. Doctors currently suggest a combination of medication and lifestyle changes to treat whichever symptoms you're experiencing.
Sourced: The Big Book of Walking for Weight Loss
First published: 22 May 2018