PCOS symptoms can be very confusing and frustrating. Often you lose control of your own body and feel like you don’t even recognize own self anymore.
But you are not alone in this! PCOS is one of the most common yet puzzling health disorder that is affecting in women of the 21st century.
Women are constantly bombarded with demands on professional and personal front, which adds excessive stress and pushes their hormone balance upside down.
On top of it, the foods and environment we encounter are full of chemicals and toxins which rip out the normal functioning of her body cells. This leads to inflammation and worsening off PCOS Symptoms!
It is estimated that about one in every ten women have PCOS. And, there could be more though! This is because, for many women the syndrome just remains uncovered as they are unable to get a proper diagnosis.
In this post, we uncover the root causes of PCOS, Signs and Symptoms that you should know and risks of PCOS that you should not ignore. Let’s dive in!
What are the first signs of PCOS?
PCOS is a hormone imbalance disorder. PCOS symptoms are unique to every woman as different hormones get disturbed leading to her specific health symptoms.
However, some common PCOS Symptoms do start appearing as one starts struggling with the common hormonal imbalances that are specifically present in PCOS.
Here are some of the first signs of PCOS:
- Absent or Irregular Periods
- Extreme Mood Swings and PMS
- Extremely painful periods with bloating and digestive problems.
- Weight gain around abdominal area and Difficulty to lose weight
- Facial hair growth
- Hair loss and hair thinning
- Skin breakouts and Acne
PCOS Symptoms Checklist
As we already mentioned, PCOS presents itself in different ways in different women. You may experience one or more of the health symptoms listed below.
Also, the extent to which a health symptom is present in a women varies depending on her hormone imbalances.
For example, if you are experiencing high levels of Androgens or male hormones, then you will constantly struggle with Irregular periods, facial hair, acne, and hair loss on scalp.
Here ‘s PCOS Symptoms Checklist for you to know whether you fall in the risk category of having PCOS.
- Irregular Periods;
- Excess androgen levels;
- Sleep apnea;
- High stress levels;
- High blood pressure;
- Skin tags;
- Metabolic syndrome;
- Acne, oily skin, and dandruff;
- High cholesterol and triglycerides;
- Acanthosis nigricans, or dark patches on the skin;
- Male pattern balding;
- Insulin resistance;
- Type 2 diabetes;
- Pelvic pain;
- Depression and anxiety;
- Weight gain and/or difficulty losing weight;
- Excessive facial and body hair growth, known as hirsutism;
- Decreased libido
You might want to take this free PCOS symptoms quiz to narrow down your risk of having PCOS.
Now, before we go through PCOS symptoms in detail. Let’s get a basic understanding of how this whole thing works. It will really help to identify your specific PCOS symptoms and imbalances.
PCOS – A Hormone Imbalance Disorder!
The primary cause of PCOS can be traced down to hormonal imbalance that disturb the metabolism, fertility, and overall health of a woman. Now, let’s take a quick look into hormones and how they function.
Hormones are like chemical messengers in the body. They help carry information from one part to the other.
For example, when you come across a stressful situation, say due to loud sound for which you should probably run, then following actions take place:
- Cortisol hormone rises and says, “Kidneys! Did you hear that sound? We need some adrenaline here!”
- Then adrenaline goes to the heart and says, “You have to beat harder and pump faster, we need more blood,” and to the legs, “No room for fatigue now, you need to keep running.”
Similarly, hormones aid in the process of reproduction. The whole reproductive cycle is under the control of a complex interplay of hormones.
Our hormones are in a very delicate balance, and they affect each other. If one is disturbed, the others are affected.
Now, there are the regular female hormones like estrogen and the others that are involved like the luteinizing hormone and follicle-stimulating hormone.
If there’s is an imbalance in the hormones now, the reproductive cycle is disturbed.
What happens when you have PCOS?
Now, let’s see what exactly happens in Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome. We will go through the causes of PCOS or the hormone imbalances that mark the presence of PCOS.
1. The ‘cysts’ on the Ovaries
Not to get too geeky, let’s wrap this up quick!
The goal of a reproductive cycle in a woman is to make a matured egg available for fertilization. If the egg isn’t fertilized, menstruation occurs, and the cycle starts over again.
Unfortunately, the hormonal imbalance in PCOS prevent the proper maturation of an egg. This immature egg remains then remains as a cyst.
This is why it is common to see cysts on the ovaries of women with PCOS, when they go through medical imaging.
While the presence of cysts on the ovaries is one of the criteria of PCOS, it is not a definitive diagnostic criteria! This means that you may have perfectly normal looking ovaries, yet have PCOS and struggle with PCOS symptoms.
That is why, the appearance of cysts is not really considered an important criteria to diagnose PCOS.
A woman might have other PCOS symptoms, but not the cysts. On the other hand, it is possible to have the cysts without other PCOS symptoms.
2. High Androgens in PCOS
Okay, we have to talk about hormones a little more, sorry!
Really, you can’t discuss Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome without talking about the hormones. It is, after all, a hormonal imbalance disorder.
Androgens are hormones too. They are called male hormones, although they are also present in women, but in moderate quantities.
Problems arise when the levels of androgens in the body rise higher than usual.
These ‘male hormones’ can suppress the normal functioning of the ovaries. As a result of high male hormones, the ‘female hormones’ cannot be produced efficiently by a woman’s reproductive system.
This disturbs her fertility and her regular menstrual cycle. Also, she starts struggling with other related problems that arise as a result of high Androgens.
Health issues such as facial hair, acne, and abdominal fat, and hair fall are common for women with high Androgens.
3. Insulin resistance in PCOS
Insulin is yet another hormone. We’ll make this one quick, but you can always find more information on that in our post on Insulin Resistance.
Insulin is a hormone that regulates the level of sugars in the blood. In insulin resistance, the tissues do not allow insulin to put away excess sugar from your blood. This leads to high blood sugar levels.
When the body senses that there is too much sugar around, it assumes there is not enough insulin. What does it do then? Makes more insulin!
This causes hyperinsulinemia (too much insulin in the body). This is one sure way to elevate the levels of Androgens in the body.
PCOS Symptoms and Health Complications
We’re getting to it. It would probably have been futile to talk about symptoms without first understanding the causes of PCOS.
So, remember the list up top? Let’s go through the PCOS Symptoms in detail:
1. Sudden Weight Gain Or Inability to lose Weight No Matter what you try
One of the most common symptoms of PCOS is weight gain. Not less than 50% of women with PCOS experience weight gain. You’ll begin to gain weight abnormally.
Now, this is where you’ll be grateful you read the above section on “what happens when you have PCOS” first (if you didn’t skip that section).
Remember the excess androgens? The male hormones, right?
Because of the male hormones, the weight gain is in a male pattern.
Usually, women store fat around the thighs, but with PCOS, the excess fat is stored in the midsection, around the belly. This gives you an apple shape.
This kind of fat raises the risk for type-II diabetes, endometrial cancer, and cardiovascular diseases.
PCOS does make it difficult to effectively manage weight, unfortunately.
The good news here now: symptoms are greatly improved by losing just about 5-10% of the weight.
Where does all the extra weight come from?
Remember that PCOS can cause insulin resistance? Great. So, this is what happens:
With insulin resistance, the body can not convert blood sugar(glucose) into its storage format. Consequently, there is an excess of glucose running around. Too much glucose can lead to weight gain as it can be converted to fat. With time, there is an increase in weight.
On a general note, any hormonal imbalances can greatly increase the chances of weight gain. Weight gain can even be due to improper diet and lifestyle in some cases.
On the other hand, can weight gain aggravate PCOS symptoms?
This link is not further understood, but indirectly, the added weight can make PCOS symptoms worse.
Weight gain, or obesity, can cause hormone imbalance. PCOS thrives on hormonal imbalances.
2. The hormonal imbalance leads to Irregular Periods in PCOS
Those hormones are responsible for the menstrual cycle. If the hormones are irregular, then the cycle itself will be irregular.
Since the levels of male hormones are sky high and the ovaries are suppressed, then the ovaries cannot function normally as they should.
Likely, eggs will not be produced at all. This situation is called hyperandrogenic anovulation.
Also, due to the non-production of eggs, there will be no menses. This is why menstrual irregularities appear as a symptom of PCOS. Some of the menstrual irregularities include:
- Amenorrhoea: This is a condition in which there is an outright absence of menstruation. It is not the same as menopause. Menopause only occurs in women that are beyond reproductive age, at about 45-50 years. In amenorrhoea, a woman of reproductive age doesn’t menstruate at all.
- Oligomenorrhoea: This a when the menstrual cycle is longer than normal. That is, the cycle lasts for more than 35 days.
- Dysmenorrhoea: Painful menstruation. While there can usually be some degree of pain and cramping during menstruation, with dysmenorrhoea, it is especially painful. There is spasmodic pain in the first two days, which can be felt in the lower abdomen and is radiating to the legs.
Pain can also be caused by the cysts (immature follicles) that store up in the ovary and refuse to leave.
3. Difficulty in Conceiving – Sub fertility
Remember that the hormones control the reproductive cycle? These hormones are supposed to get a matured egg ready.
However, they can’t. Because they are not balanced!
That’s the reason for PCOS induced sub fertility or inability to conceive successfully.
The eggs never mature, and they are never released. This is called anovulation. Summarily, the ovaries do not produce eggs. Since eggs are not released, there is nothing to be fertilized.
Or the eggs stay immature and cannot be fertilized by sperm. Pregnancy cannot occur with no mature egg to be fertilized.
This is why patients with polycystic ovarian syndrome experience difficulties getting pregnant.
This one is frustrating. The desperate feeling that comes with trying unsuccessfully to have children is dreadful and puts many women into misery.
The good news is that, if you are experiencing infertility due to PCOS, it is not the end.
Once you start putting your hormones back to balance, you should experience regular ovulation. This will naturally increase your chances to get pregnant. Check out our 6 Step Plan to Getting Pregnant Naturally with PCOS.
4. Hirsutism: Excessive hair growth
Since there is a lot of androgens (male hormones), then you’ll also notice excessive hair growth, in the male pattern. About 70% of women with PCOS experience this male-pattern hair growth.
That means that hair will grow in places where you would normally expect them to grow on a man. This includes:
- Facial hair-beards, mustaches, whiskers, etc.
- Upper arms
- Inner thighs
5. Hair loss due to PCOS Symptoms
Your hair follicles are also affected by high level of androgens, and they lose their optimum state of health. Hence, you get hair where you don’t want it, and you lose hair where you ought to have.
You can experience male-pattern hair loss on the scalp, leading to balding. A receding hairline is commonplace too.
Bottom line: PCOS cause hair loss as well as unwanted hair growth.
6. PCOS Acne
You must have thought you were already done with acne back in your teenage years. But acne again as an adult?
Well, that’s PCOS for you, always doing the unexpected.
Why does PCOS cause acne? Androgens.
How Hyperandrogenism in PCOS leads to acne?
We have already established that patients with PCOS have high androgen levels. We’ve also shown that hyperinsulinemia is another one of the PCOS symptoms, and it also causes hyperandrogenism.
Basically, we’re saying that there are a lot of androgens (particularly testosterone) in the bloodstream of a PCOS patient.
However, as if that was not enough, cells become more sensitive to this testosterone as it runs around the body. This increased sensitivity also shows up in the sebaceous glands.
What are the sebaceous glands?
The sebaceous glands are glands associated with the hair follicles. They secrete an oily substance called sebum, which lubricates the hair follicles to keep the follicles and the hair healthy.
Now, two things are happening:
- The cells are more sensitive to testosterone than usual;
- Yet, the levels of testosterone in the blood are sky-high.
This causes the sebaceous glands to go into overdrive. Consequently, they begin to overproduce sebum. This leaves the skin with excessive oil, which can block up the skin pores.
The excess of oil is a major precursor for acne.
The acne not only shows up on the face but also on the chest and on the back.
7. Acanthosis Nigricans or Dark Patches on the Skin
Don’t mind the big words, let’s bring them down.
Acanthosis nigricans is another skin condition that can arise due to PCOS.
You might notice patches of dark, thick, velvety skin appear on your body. This is due to insulin resistance and higher levels of insulin.
Acanthosis nigricans can be commonly spotted in skin creases around the neck area, on the underarms, under your breasts, and in the groin area.
8. Sleep Apnea
Sleep apnea is a condition in which the breath ceases during sleep. It happens only for brief periods but repeatedly. This can interrupt sleep if severe enough.
Imagine waking up and finding you can’t breathe?
This can lead to fatigue during the day, memory loss, mood swings, weight gain (again?), diabetes, and heart disease.
Sleep apnea happens when the breathing muscles are so relaxed that breathing does not occur. It is more common in women with PCOS.
9. Mood Swings – Depression and Anxiety
It has been observed that women with PCOS are prone to poor mental health.
Low levels of healthy neurotransmitters such as Serotonin predisposes PCOS patients to anxiety, mood swings, and even depression.
Additionally, PCOS symptoms pain so much. And it is not just physical pain. The pain can also be emotional.
The frustration of:
- trying unsuccessfully to have a baby,
- trying to shed weight yet growing heavier,
- never knowing when your next period will come,
- having to shave or wear special scarfs to cover facial hair can really begin to get even on your own nerves. All that enough is bad.
But that’s not all. With hormonal disturbances, mood swings happen even more readily.
10. Type-II diabetes
PCOS is a progressive health disorder. And when PCOS symptoms are not managed in time, multiple health complications may arise.
Type-II diabetes is one of the complications of uncontrolled PCOS. It has been observed that 5-15% of women having PCOS eventually develop type-II diabetes. Both of the health problems are related to insulin resistance.
Diabetes is characterized by abnormal sugar levels in the blood. Remember that in insulin resistance, the body tissues resist the action of insulin to store away excess sugar.
Consequently, excess sugar remains in the blood. Of course, excess sugar is a precursor to obesity and weight gain.
Furthermore, the body produces more insulin in response. Insulin accumulates in the blood, leading to hyperinsulinemia.
The unfortunate thing is that having too much insulin in the body at one time causes more androgens to be produced, leading to hyperandrogenism. This is another problem on its own.
Now, you can see how different hormones are connected to each other and to PCOS Symptoms? One aggravates the other, leading to a never ending loop. That’s why it is important to address PCOS Symptoms in time.
11. Cardiovascular diseases when PCOS Symptoms are not treated in time
The cardiovascular system is responsible for getting blood around our body. It includes the heart and the blood vessels.
This PCOS symptom arises with obesity and poorly managed diabetes. The level of cholesterol can go so high as to bother the cardiovascular system.
There can also be high blood pressure, stroke, and increased risk of heart attack and stroke.
As if that was not enough, studies have shown that women with PCOS can have fats line up in their blood vessels, making them narrower than usual.
This condition is known as atherosclerosis. Narrower blood vessels can lead to the ineffective circulation of blood around the body, high blood pressure, etc.
12. Long-term risk of endometrial cancer
Every month, menstruation occurs, right? Okay, you know that already.
You also know that there is a flow during these cycles. The flow consists of blood and other tissues. These tissues come from the endometrial lining of the uterus(or womb), which is mostly what is shed in menstruation.
When an egg is produced normally (we really don’t want to get geeky here, so let’s keep it simple), there is an increase in the levels of estrogen. The estrogen is produced by the corpus luteum, the remnant of the follicle that housed the egg.
What estrogen then does is increase cause the lining of the womb to get thicker. Thick womb walls serve as a cool velvety cushion for the egg to sit in when it gets fertilized. However, if the egg is not fertilized, then the cushion has to be thrown out. No baby is coming.
This repeats every cycle.
Unfortunately, in PCOS, the hormones controlling this process are not normal. Estrogen on its own can become very much and keeps on stimulating the wall of the womb to get thicker and thicker with more tissues. With no menses occurring, the tissues remain there, accumulating.
In the long run, these can lead to endometrial hyperplasia, and to endometrial cancer.
Are PCOS and endometriosis the same?
Endometriosis is the presence of endometrial tissues in places other than the lining of the uterus.
It causes premenstrual pain and period cramps. So, PCOS and endometriosis are not the same.
Breaking the cycle is key to find relief from PCOS Symptoms!
Now, you have seen PCOS symptoms and gotten a pretty good understanding of the causes and triggers behind your health issues.
If you’ve been following well, you would have noticed that there are patterns and cycles that are based on the causes of PCOS.
A good number of the problems link up to high Androgens or high insulin levels in your body.
From here, there are chain reactions that cause the symptoms. In many cases, one of the symptoms cause other symptoms or come back and worsen off the root causes of hormone imbalance.
Your journey to beat PCOS starts now!
Do write to us for any queries, comments, and feedback. We will try to get back the soonest we can!
- Polycystic ovary syndrome
- AN EFFORT TO UNDERSTAND PCOS IN AYURVEDA CONTEXT
- Concept of Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome: Perspectivesof Ayurvedaand ModernScience