Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (or PCOS, formerly known as Polycystic Ovarian Disease – PCOD) may be something you’ve already heard about or even been diagnosed with. However, no need to panic—this condition affects anywhere between 10-20% women from the ages 15 to 44 years and is fairly common. We’ve put together a shortlist of things you need to know so that you can tackle PCOS!
Let’s start with the basics:
What does PCOS mean?
PCOS is a group of symptoms caused by hormonal imbalances in women. That means women with PCOS produce higher-than-normal amounts of male hormones (testosterone and androgens) and insulin. They also have irregularities in the hormones that control the menstrual cycle. These hormonal issues can prevent your ovaries from releasing an egg and can lead to metabolic and reproductive complications such as obesity, diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, infertility, and endometrial cancer (uterine cancer).
So what are the common symptoms of PCOS?
Earlier, PCOS was incorrectly called polycystic ovarian disease or PCOD. Today, however, scientists call it a syndrome since it’s a group of symptoms rather than a “curable” disease. Women with this condition usually display some combination of symptoms, but not necessarily all of them.
Women with PCOS can show a variety of symptoms. Some of the leading symptoms include:
- Irregular periods or no periods for an extended period of time
- Sudden weight gain or obesity
- Excess hair growth, often on the face, upper thighs, and chest
- Severe acne or oily skin
- Hair loss
- Significant changes in mood
- Darkening and thickening of the skin in certain areas (particularly the armpits and neck)
How does PCOS get diagnosed?
Because PCOS is a collection of symptoms, the diagnosis can be a process of elimination. Many doctors ask patients for ultrasound reports, however, these are not always required for diagnosis.
To be diagnosed with PCOS, you need to have at least two of the following:
- Irregular periods (see our article about normal periods) – periods are less than 21 days apart or more than 35 days apart. Note that the year after you first start your periods (menarche), it is normal for them to be irregular. Irregular periods can be a PCOS symptom once you’re more than 1-2 years past your very first period (menarche).
- Signs of excess male hormones – usually observed as abnormal hair growth, acne or hair loss. If this is not visibly observed, your doctor may ask for a blood report for testosterone hormone levels to see if the levels are higher than normal.
- Many small cysts in the ovaries – This is usually seen through an ultrasound report. Ultrasound reports are not required for diagnosis if the above 2 criteria are already met.
Wondering what the best forms of treatment for PCOS in India are? Read our article on PCOS treatments.