Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) is quite common among women. In fact, it is often undiagnosed. In this post, we’ll explore the signs and symptoms of PCOS and how to recognize if you might be suffering from this common condition. While labs and imaging are helpful in diagnosing PCOS, sometimes a qualified medical professional may recognize PCOS just by talking to the patient about what they are experiencing.
Symptoms of PCOS
The most common symptoms of PCOS include:
- Irregular menstrual cycles: menstrual cycles that are too short or too long may lead to anovulation (failure to release an egg mid-cycle from your ovaries). This is a cause of infertility.
- Difficulty/inability to lose weight*: especially weight around the middle known, which is known as truncal obesity.
- Unwanted hair growth: male pattern hair growth that may occur on the face, chest or abdomen (also known as hirsutism).
- Dark folds under the skin: the creases under the skin (especially under the breasts) become dark.
Caveats in Diagnosing PCOS
In some instances, however, PCOS can be tricky to diagnose. For instance, if a practitioner conducts an ultrasound looking for cysts on the ovaries, this test isn’t always conclusive in determining if a person has PCOS. Cysts come and go, so they may not be visible on the ultrasound. On the flip side, someone could also have cysts on their ovaries yet be ovulating with normal menstrual cycles and not have weight around the middle or hirsutism.
There’s also a thin type of PCOS, that is under-treated and under-diagnosed. That’s to say, it’s not always women who are heavy who get PCOS. Patients with the thin type also have insulin resistance, which is easier to recognize in heavy women.
Long-Term Implications of PCOS
It’s important to recognize PCOS because it can lead to more serious health conditions if left untreated. PCOS is highly common and very treatable, from a Naturopathic perspective. If untreated, PCOS can lead to:
- Diabetes and cardiovascular problems: PCOS is very similar to a pre-diabetic state/metabolic syndrome. Carrying weight around the middle can lead to diabetes, which also sets the stage for cardiovascular disease.
- Increased risk of cancer: PCOS is associated with a higher risk uterine cancer. Also, while there is not a direct link to breast cancer, women with PCOS are estrogen dominant, which can lead to breast cancer.
- Infertility: Infertility is rampant today, and PCOS is one of the most common causes.
What Causes PCOS?
Women with PCOS have elevated levels of androgens. Androgens are sex hormones, one of which is testosterone. Elevated testosterone causes the unwanted hair growth and/or acne that many PCOS sufferers experience. Patients with PCOS also have high insulin levels, which leads to the weight around the middle area of the body.
Along with the elevated insulin, the ratio or two important female hormones, LH and FSH ratio, is high. This combination tends to lead to elevated androgens in many women. Most often these women also have another common hormonal imbalance known as estrogen dominance, which is having too much estrogen relative to progesterone in the body. Many women with PCOS also have hypothyroid.
The good news is that these are all things that can be corrected especially with Naturopathic medicine. Stay tuned for my next post where I will discuss Naturopathic treatments for PCOS.
*When I talk about difficulty losing weight or inability to lose weight, it is also known as insulin resistance. If the waist to hip ratio is greater than 0.85, insulin resistance exists. This doesn’t necessarily apply to men.