Doesn’t it seem like every other woman you meet has PCOS? It is rampant and being heralded as a “hidden epidemic”. Before you begin to get in control of PCOS, let’s know how it happens and what are its signs. Read on for a brief guide on PCOS symptoms and causes.
Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a hormonal disorder common among women of reproductive age. When you have PCOS, your ovaries produce more than the normal amount of male hormones called androgens (specifically testosterone), which are usually present in a smaller amount in females. As a result of this hormonal imbalance, the ovaries are unable to release eggs (ovulation). Irregular ovulation can also cause numerous small, fluid-filled sacs to develop on the ovaries. These sacs are called cysts and give the condition PCOS its name. The unpredictable ovulation causes irregular menstrual cycles and other symptoms of PCOS.
The exact cause behind PCOS is not known. However, there are some significant factors that play a role in causing PCOS. These factors include:
Many individuals with PCOS have insulin resistance. When your body becomes resistant to insulin, your cells lose the ability to take up the glucose (sugar) required to produce energy, which causes increased blood sugar levels. This triggers the pancreas to produce more insulin to stabilise the blood sugar levels. The excess insulin that is now in your blood (hyperinsulinemia) may lead to excess production of androgens in the body, causing difficulties in ovulation.
Your ovaries may produce excess amounts of androgens and lead to PCOS and its symptoms. High androgen levels prevent your ovaries from releasing eggs, which causes small, fluid-filled sacs to develop on the ovaries and leads to irregular menstrual cycles and other PCOS symptoms.
Studies suggest that women with PCOS have low-grade inflammation. If you are obese and have abdominal fat, the adipose (fat) tissue shows an increased secretion and release of proinflammatory cytokines. This can cause low-grade inflammation in your body, which stimulates the ovaries to produce androgens and may lead to heart and blood vessel problems.
Research shows that PCOS runs in families. Many women who have a family history of PCOS develop the condition.
The signs and symptoms of PCOS vary from person to person depending on their physiological condition. You may have PCOS and none of its associated symptoms. You may observe the signs and symptoms of PCOS around the time of your first menstrual cycle or only experience it in the later stages. Symptoms of PCOS include:
As the name of the condition suggests, cysts are one of the foremost signs of PCOS. Your ovaries may develop cysts, which are sac-like pockets filled with fluid, visible on ultrasound.
Irregular, infrequent, prolonged or missed periods are the most telling symptoms of PCOS. You may have fewer than 9 periods a year, a gap of more than 35 days between periods, or have no periods at all.
In PCOS, your uterine wall lining may keep building up for a long time due to hormonal imbalance and cause heavy bleeding during your periods.
This condition is also called hirsutism and is due to the increased androgen levels in PCOS. Most women develop unwanted hair on their faces and excessive hair growth on their arms, back, abdomen, and chest.
Excess androgens can also cause acne, especially on the back, chest, and face. Once again, the excess androgens stimulate the production of oil in the skin. This excess oil in your skin along with the dead skin blocks the follicles from which your hair grows and causes acne.
This condition is known as acanthosis nigricans. In PCOS, dark patches may develop on your skin, especially on the neck, armpits, groin and under the breast.
You may also develop little flaps of extra skin on your neck and armpits. Skin tags are one of the less common skin PCOS symptoms. They typically appear in the same areas as acanthosis nigricans.
About 80% of women with PCOS gain weight and may experience difficulty in losing it. As androgens trigger the weight gain in PCOS, it is mainly focused around the abdomen, where men tend to carry their weight.
The hair on your scalp may get thinner and you may lose patches of hair in PCOS. Hair loss is one of the most common hair PCOS symptoms and is believed to be caused by extra androgen production. This hair loss is medically termed androgenic alopecia and is commonly known as female-pattern baldness in women.
As expected, the decreased frequency or complete lack of ovulation makes pregnancy difficult. PCOS is the most common cause of infertility. When pregnancy does happen, PCOS can lead to pregnancy-related complications as well.
You may experience frequent headaches due to the hormonal imbalance in PCOS. If you think you are experiencing the symptoms of PCOS, consult your doctor without delay.
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