If you are wondering whether you might be suffering from polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), why not take our little self-test and see if you can recognise the typical signs of PCOS in yourself.
Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
Polycystic ovary syndrome, or PCOS for short, is a condition in which a woman’s hormone levels are completely out of balance. This can lead to the formation of the cysts in the ovaries that give the condition its name, but also manifests itself in disorders of the menstrual cycle, fertility, metabolism and external appearance.
PCOS affects around 1 in 10 women of childbearing age, but experts believe that almost half of all women with polycystic ovary syndrome are completely unaware of their condition.
It can therefore be useful to take a look at a few typical external signs of PCOS. If you notice several of these symptoms in yourself, it is time to seek medical advice and clarify the matter. True to the motto: “Knowledge is power”.
Take the PCOS self-test – do several of these signs apply to you?
You’ve skipped a period or two (and know you’re not pregnant):
although some women with PCOS have regular periods, PCOS is associated with high levels of androgens and altered LH/FSH ratio, disrupting the monthly cycle of ovulation and menstruation. Elevated insulin levels due to insulin resistance are present in about 40 % of patients too, further contributing to hormonal dysbalance. If you have PCOS, your periods may thus be irregular or stop altogether. Doctors refer to an “irregular” period as either eight or less menstrual cycles per year, or menstrual cycles longer than 35 days. Some women with PCOS also experience heavier or lighter bleeding than usual during their menstrual cycle.
You gain weight and don’t know why:
about half of women with PCOS will have weight gain and obesity that is difficult to manage.
Can hardly make it past mid-morning?
Many women with PCOS report increased fatigue and low energy. Related issues such as poor sleep may contribute to this feeling.
Hair grows in unwanted places:
areas affected by excess hair growth (also known as hirsutism) may include the face, arms, back, chest, thumbs, toes, and abdomen. Hirsutism related to PCOS is due to hormonal changes in androgens.
… but disappears in others:
thinning hair on the head may be related to PCOS and may increase in middle age.
Pregnancy test is negative again:
PCOS is a leading cause of female infertility. Medical assistance may be required for conception. But don’t panic: very often small measures produce big results!
You have been breaking out like you’re a teenager again:
hormonal changes related to androgens can lead to skin issues. Acne, skin tags, and darkened patches are common signs.
Not feeling like yourself?
Having PCOS can increase the likelihood of mood swings, depression, and anxiety.
You need more pain killers than others:
hormonal changes may prompt headaches and pelvic pain.
Counting sheep just won’t do the trick:
women with PCOS often report problems such as insomnia or poor sleep. There are many factors that can affect sleep, but PCOS has been linked to a sleep disorder called sleep apnea. With sleep apnea, a person will stop breathing for short periods of time during sleep. Ask your partner: he/she will usually know much better than you yourself.
Medical PCOS diagnosis
Do some of these signs and symptoms apply to you? Why not see your doctor about it and find out what it is all about. For diagnosis, your doctor will ask you some questions, make a blood test and an ultrasound scan of your ovaries. To actually be diagnosed with PCOS, usually the so-called Rotterdam criteria are applied, which require the presence of two of the following three criteria:
• hyperandrogenism, detected by clinical signs such as hirsutism or by biochemical results (raised FAI or free testosterone)
• polycystic ovaries on ultrasound
Other aetiologies must be excluded such as congenital adrenal hyperplasia, androgen secreting tumours, Cushing syndrome, thyroid dysfunction and hyperprolactinaemia.