Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) is a common condition that can affect how a woman’s ovaries work. PCOS can mean that the ovaries may not release an egg at the end of a woman’s menstrual cycle. As a result, it can make trying to conceive more difficult, but it does not mean a woman cannot get pregnant as there are ways to effectively treat this condition.
But how do you know if you have PCOS, and how might it affect you, your body and your fertility? In this article, we break down the tell-tale signs of this condition and how you might be able to recognise these symptoms for yourself.
How do I know if I have PCOS?
The truth is, it can be tricky to know if you have PCOS, especially if your symptoms are mild and you feel healthy. In fact, you may not realise you have this condition until you start trying for a baby. This is because PCOS can sometimes make it difficult to conceive.
There are a variety of symptoms associated with PCOS, and knowing what to look out for may help you recognise if you might have this condition. If you think you may have PCOS, you should speak to your doctor for support and advice. You may be referred for further tests to help reach a diagnosis, and they will be able to provide treatment information.
To find out the most common symptoms of PCOS, keep reading.
Symptoms of PCOS
Irregular periods or no periods
Having irregular or not having periods at all is a common sign of PCOS. During a menstrual cycle, ovulation occurs when a number of eggs mature in the follicles of the ovaries. The most mature egg will then travel into one of the fallopian tubes. However, for a woman with PCOS, while some polycystic ovaries contain follicles with eggs in them, these follicles do not mature and develop as they should, meaning there is no release of eggs or ovulation. As a result, a woman may experience irregular bleeding or none at all.
This is known also as anovulation, and some women may not notice this is happening until they try to conceive. You may also not realise this is an issue for you if you are using contraception that may mask it, such as the combined pill.
Excessive facial hair
Also known as hirsutism, excessive facial hair is one of the more visible signs of PCOS. It is usually noticeable around the mouth and chin, and the hairs are often thick and dark in appearance. Hirsutism is triggered by the overproduction of androgens - the hormones that are responsible for male characteristics. Aside from the face, some women with PCOS may also notice excessive hair growth on the neck, chest, back, buttocks, thighs, tummy and lower back too.
While some women with PCOS experience excessive hair growth, others may struggle with thinning hair, especially at the parting area, and the hairline may begin to recede too. Further to this, PCOS can also make the hair dry, appear limp and lacklustre, and it can break easily too. Medically referred to as female pattern baldness, this type of hair loss can be due to the androgenic hormones that women with PCOS often produce.
Difficulty trying to conceive
Since PCOS can affect a woman's menstrual cycle, it can make trying to conceive more difficult. As previously mentioned, this is due to the fact that there is often no ovulation, and without ovulation, there is not an opportunity to conceive. PCOS makes it harder to track ovulation, especially if the menstrual cycle is irregular or if you do not experience any bleeding at all.
Acne can be another symptom of PCOS. This can happen when the ovaries produce androgens which then stimulate the production of oil in the skin, leading to acne. Usually, PCOS-related acne flares up on the lower face, such as along the jawline, chin, upper neck and chest, and it can often worsen around the time of menstrual periods. Some women with PCOS notice their acne takes a long time to heal, and the lesions themselves can be large and deep.
PCOS makes it harder for the body to process the insulin hormone which helps convert the starches and sugars from food into energy. Known as insulin resistance, this can then cause insulin and sugar to build up in the bloodstream. In turn, high levels of insulin can cause weight gain.
Does PCOS affect fertility in women?
Yes, PCOS can cause infertility in women - but it doesn’t mean that a woman can’t ever get pregnant. PCOS can be a treatable condition, and there are a number of things you can try to improve your chances of getting pregnant. For example, you could try using a fertility supplement for women, or your doctor may be able to recommend a specific treatment that’s right for you.
Aside from trying a treatment, there are a variety of lifestyle changes you can make to ensure that you’re in the best health possible and to keep your PCOS symptoms under control, such as maintaining a healthy weight by following a balanced diet and exercising regularly. It’s not always easy to know whether you have PCOS, but there are a number of signs you can look out for. If you suspect you may have this condition or you are concerned about your reproductive health, you should seek advice from a medical professional.