Polycystic Ovary Syndrome: What you need to know about PCOS
Perhaps you’ve never heard of PCOS, but chances are you know someone who has it—or maybe that someone is you.
September is Polycystic Ovary Syndrome Awareness Month, but it’s important to know about PCOS anytime.
Why? Because PCOS is the leading cause of female infertility and can cause a range of other unfortunate symptoms.
So you can be better informed about this condition that seems to be impacting more women, let’s break down what PCOS is, the symptoms, and possible treatments.
What is PCOS?
Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a hormonal disorder common among women of reproductive age, according to the Mayo Clinic.
A functional medicine doctor explains that PCOS is actually four hormone disorders (plus an unofficial fifth one) that have overlapping but inconsistent symptoms. See more on those below.
Who has PCOS?
PCOS affects 8 to 20% of reproductive-age women worldwide.1 Because there is no universal definition of PCOS, the exact number of women in the United States with PCOS is unknown, but is thought to be about 5 million.2,3 Most women are diagnosed during their twenties or thirties, but PCOS may affect girls as young as 11 who haven't had their first period.4
What are the symptoms?
PCOS symptoms may be attributed to other causes or go unnoticed, so PCOS may go undiagnosed for some time, says the PCOS Awareness Association.
And despite the name, many women with PCOS do not have cysts on their ovaries.
Here are some PCOS symptoms to know about. Remember not everyone’s symptoms will be the same.
- Irregular periods (heavy bleeding, missed periods, long cycles)
- Ovarian cysts
- Weight gain
- Unwanted hair growth (also known as hirsutism)
- Thinning hair on the head
- Mood changes
- Pelvic pain
- Sleep problems
What is the cause of PCOS?
Exact PCOS causes can vary by person and include:
- Excess insulin (the hormone that regulates blood sugar)
- Heredity (your family’s genes)
- Excess androgen (male hormone)
- Low grade inflammation
How do you find out if you have PCOS?
The Mayo Clinic advises you see a doctor if you have concerns about your periods, if you're experiencing infertility or if you have excess facial or body hair, acne and pattern baldness. It’s good to listen to your body and see a health professional if you’re exhibiting a few of the other symptoms we mentioned too. These could be signs of an imbalance.
How can PCOS be treated?
Treatment for PCOS runs the gamut.
While a birth control pill may be prescribed for PCOS by some conventional doctors, a functional medicine doctor says “it does not actually fix or ‘stop’ PCOS. It only masks its symptoms while the syndrome continues unhindered under the surface.”
If you want to get to the root of PCOS, hormone balance can be helped through “diet, supplements, and lifestyle changes including stress reduction and better sleep,” she says.
Here’s another PCOS treatment article from Mind Body Green to check out.
Remember to always listen to your body and check with a health professional or two if you’re not feeling well or something seems off.
(Thumbnail Photo: Tharakorn/iStock)
Jessica Hamlin is an LA-born and bred journalist and editor who started taking pictures of food back when everyone used film cameras. A graduate of the Institute for Integrative Nutrition’s health coach training program, she’s passionate about wellness and enjoys making and discovering delicious and healthy food. Her work has appeared in Clean Plates, NPR affiliate KPCC, AOL, and Eater LA.