Signs you might have PCOS!
Here's part 1/3 of our PCOS blog series.
If feeling like a hormonal teenager with mood swings and cramps isn’t enough, symptoms sometimes seem to pile up. As womxn, dealing with acne, stray hair, weight gain, and period problems seem normal. More so, in some people’s minds, these are health woes that we simply need to learn to deal with. But polycystic ovary syndrome, or PCOS, may really be behind these problems. Perhaps it starts with signs like a 5’o clock shadow (the beginning of a beard) or thinning of scalp hair. And if that’s the case, it’s important to get the right diagnosis for current comfort, long-term health, and future plans for having a family. Unfortunately, the reality is that there are several hurdles that can make getting that diagnosis especially difficult.
First things first, it’s essential to understand that even though the terms PCOS and PCOD are used interchangeably, they are very different conditions.
PCOD is a condition in which the ovaries contain many immature or partially mature eggs. They, eventually, turn into cysts. This might be caused due to hoarding on junk food, obesity, stress or hormonal disturbances. The symptoms majorly include irregular periods, abdominal weight gain, infertility and male pattern baldness.
This is not considered a disease as it can be improved with the right diet and exercise. It is more common and those with PCOD do not have significant fertility issues, which enables them to ovulate regularly.
PCOS, on the other hand, is a metabolic disorder that is more severe than the one above. The name ‘polycystic ovary syndrome’ is a bit misleading: it suggests the problem is mainly with the ovaries, and that you might have multiple ‘cysts’ on your ovaries. However, the cause of PCOS is hormonal: it is not a problem that affects just the ovaries, as the name might suggest. Womxn with PCOS produce high levels of androgens, which are male sex hormones. Genetics and family history can also have an important role to play here. You may experience several seemingly random, unrelated symptoms as it affects your hormones dramatically.
Signs that suggest you may want to get checked up for PCOS are:
Irregular periods: High levels of androgens and insulin can disrupt the monthly cycle. Your periods may be irregular, or stop altogether. Some might also experience heavier or lighter bleeding, along with occasional spotting between two cycles.
Excess hair growth: ‘Hirsutism’ is excess hair growth on the face and body due to high levels of male hormones stimulating the hair follicles. This excess hair is thicker and darker than normal. It typically grows in areas where it is more usual for men to grow hair, such as the sideburn region, chin, upper lip, around the nipples, lower abdomen, chest and thighs. Contrastingly, the same hormones can lead to hair loss or a receding hairline.
Too much acne: Higher level of androgens can increase the size of the oil production glands on the skin, which can lead to increased acne. PCOS can also lead to skin tags or dark patches of skin. But, there’s no need to worry as there are treatments available for everything.
Fatigue: When afternoon slump symptoms worsen or become severe enough that they decrease your ability to complete tasks, you may want to get a check-up, because these are not symptoms of normal ‘sluggishness’. Women with PCOS have an increased risk of developing pre-diabetes, insulin resistance, and metabolic syndrome, as well as full-blown type 2 diabetes. It might also trigger headaches for some.
Weight gain: A very important point to be highlighted is that PCOS can occur in both slender and overweight womxn. A higher proportion of womxn diagnosed are obese and weight loss is much easier said than done if you have PCOS. Commercial diet plans are rarely effective for weight loss as womxn with PCOS need nutrition advice that specifically addresses their unique needs.
Difficulty in conceiving: It is important to know that women with PCOS have the same number of children (with or without assistance) as women without PCOS. Ovulation can stop completely, or it can occur irregularly. This can make it more difficult for women with PCOS to become pregnant naturally, however, this does not mean that all women with PCOS are infertile.
Unfortunately, nothing hormonal comes without complications. Whatever the case, know when to visit your doctor for the right professional guidance.
Finally, here’s a huge shout out to all of us fighting this battle- the struggle is part of the story. Hang in there, you got this.
Written by Nibha Patil
Cover by Marta Pucci