What is Polycystic Ovary Syndrome & What are the PCOS Symptoms?
Polycystic ovary syndrome (or PCOS) is a common condition in which the female ovaries produce above-average levels of the male sex hormone testosterone. Testosterone, in the right amounts, plays a role in regulating the normal function of the ovaries.[i] In those with PCOS, however, elevated testosterone levels can interfere with ovarian function and ovulation, leading to many uncomfortable and some serious symptoms and effects. Obviously recognising PCOS symptoms is the first step in addressing the some of these effects.
Is it Serious?
A key feature of PCOS is an irregular menstrual cycle, which is caused by irregular ovulation (i.e., the release of an egg from the ovary). As a result, infertility is a common complication of the condition, and is thought to affect up to 80% of women with PCOS.[ii] A lack of ovulation can also lead to the development of tiny ovarian cysts; small, fluid filled sacs grow inside the ovaries. Additionally, some of the symptoms or effects of PCOS are emotionally distressing, affecting quality of life and self-confidence.
However, there are also a number of complications from PCOS that can lead to much more serious problems, including metabolic syndrome, heart problems and even endometrial cancer. Consequently, if you are concerned that you could have PCOS, it is obviously important to have this investigated.
Recognising PCOS Symptoms
Women with PCOS may experience delayed or absent periods, and a heavy, prolonged menstrual flow. This, along with other symptoms, can typically emerge during puberty but as an estimated 75% of women with PCOS aren’t aware that they have it, it is equally possible you might have PCOS and be older. It’s typically identified in your 20s and 30s, but also later through to mid-40s or whilst in child-bearing years.
- Hirsutism (excess hair growth on the face, chest, stomach, or back)
- Acne, especially on the face, back or chest
- Weight gain
- Dark patches of skin around the neck, armpits, and beneath the breasts
- Skin tags around the neck or armpits
- Male-pattern baldness
If you are trying to get pregnant and struggling, PCOS can be a cause and so it is arguably also a symptom. Again, it is worth considering being investigated for this (and other causes of fertility problems).
What Should I Do?
If you are concerned you have signs and symptoms that may be PCOS, firstly, don’t worry. With the right diagnosis and support, it is a condition that can be managed in many ways.
We are fortunate to have two OBGYNs (Dr Lisa Joels, OBGYN Cayman and Dr Madhavi Manoharan, OBGYN Cayman) with considerable experience of diagnosing and managing PCOS, and one with a special interest in it. Dr Lisa Joels has a higher professional training and doctorate in fertility and a special interest in adolescent gynaecology, both directly related to PCOS and vice versa.
You can discuss your symptoms in the privacy of our dedicated Women’s Health Suite and we can talk you through and organise the necessary examination, blood tests and ultrasound to ensure you receive the right diagnosis, treatment and support.