Polycystic Ovary Syndrome is a hormonal condition that affects reproductive age females. According to Yale University, PCOS symptoms start gradually – although it is usually around the time the female has her first menstrual period.
In fact, as many as 15-20 percent of women of reproductive age suffer from Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, according to NIH.
Symptoms of PCOS vary greatly, meaning not all sufferers experience the same kinds of symptoms, in the same kind of degree or amount.
In fact, many sufferers do not realise they have the condition, meaning that while PCOS may start in a woman’s teenage years, it is often when she reaches her 20s or 30s that an official PCOS diagnosis is made.
PCOS symptoms vary considerably from person to person, although the one which most commonly brings females to their doctors to voice their concerns is weight gain.
With PCOS, a woman can experience few symptoms or many – which is why the condition is often mistaken for other medical problems.
On the rest of this page, you’ll find a list with the most common symptoms of PCOS described in depth.
PCOS Symptom No. 1: Hirsutism
One of the most common – and probably most embarrassing – of PCOS symptoms is hirsutism.
Hirsutism is an increase in body hair in places where usual growth is unusual or minimal.
Hirsutism is a major cosmetic concern for women who suffer from PCOS, especially as there in serious cases may be thick growth – usually on the chin, chest and around the nipples.
According to the Cedars Sinai website, continuing medical studies appear to show that elevated levels of insulin in PCOS sufferers are the main cause for excess body hair.
Although this may seem like cold comfort, it does mean managing your blood sugar, and therefore the way your body deals with insulin, through a PCOS diet could help reduce excess hair growth.
There is also electrolysis for those women who want an immediate fix.
PCOS Symptom No. 2: Irregular Periods
A disrupted menstrual cycle is one of the most common PCOS symptoms, although this will vary widely between women.
Some sufferers will find they do have a period, although their average cycle will usually be around 35 days, maybe more. This works out at around nine periods a year.
However, it isn’t unusual for some PCOS sufferers to suffer from one or two periods a year, and in some cases – none at all.
According to Yale University, women who have PCOS and also suffer from obesity are more likely to experience a complete lack of periods.
Strangely enough, having a period is not a guaranteed indication of ovulation. This is because some PCOS sufferers will have a fairly regular menstrual cycle but may not necessarily ovulate every month.
Random irregular vaginal bleeding, usually lasting for up to 24-hours, is also one of the more common PCOS symptoms.
Painful, heavy periods are also common with PCOS. However, if you experience a period that is heavier than normal, more painful or experience the loss of clots you should see the advice of a medical professional.
PCOS Symptom No. 3: Insulin Resistance
It is not unusual for women with PCOS to also experience insulin resistance symptoms, meaning their body has a slower reaction than normal to insulin.
This slow response means it takes larger amounts of insulin to get glucose to the relevant body tissues.
If this continues over a period of time, it will eventually change the way the woman’s body deals with sugar.
Consistent, high levels of glucose in the person’s blood will significantly increase her chances of becoming diabetic.
Insulin resistance symptoms vary from mild to serious and include:
- Burning or tingling sensation in legs or feet.
- Fungal infections: The chances of a person with insulin resistance contracting a fungal infection such as athletes feet is twice that of the average person.
- Brittle, discoloured nails on both the hands and feet.
- Feeling faint or dizzy spells
Every woman is different and may experience one of the insulin resistance symptoms, none of them or all of them and more.
Again, if you are concerned about possible insulin insensitivity consult your doctor who can arrange a variety of tests to determine actual insulin levels. Your medical professional can also explain potential side effects and treatment.
PCOS Symptom No. 4: Weight Gain and Obesity
According to the Women’s Health Website, it is common for sufferers of PCOS to be overweight.
Many women struggling to manage PCOS symptoms will be told to lose weight by their medical professional. This is because excess weight can worsen the symptoms, as well as increase the risk of other medical conditions – such as diabetes, stroke and cardiovascular disease.
However, it is a well documented fact that women with polycystic ovary syndrome struggle more than the average female to maintain a healthy weight, which makes weight loss even more of a challenge.
While there is no strict PCOS diet, it is thought that following a strict low GI, calorie-reduced diet and doing aerobic exercise will increase a woman’s chances of losing excess weight and maintaining it.
Maintaining a healthy weight will also help with other PCOS symptoms – such as insulin levels and excess hair.
According to the Women’s Health website, medical professionals believe PCOS is affected so greatly by the woman’s weight, that a change in diet and exercise routine is usually the first, and often only, course of “treatment” recommended.
Over 40-percent of women with PCOS will never have any official treatment for their condition. Instead their symptoms of PCOS will be managed by a series of permanent lifestyle changes.
PCOS Symptom No. 5: Infertility
Of all the possible symptoms, PCOS infertility is perhaps the most daunting and worrying for the woman.
However, it is by no means impossible for a woman with polycystic ovary syndrome to fall pregnant – although many individuals may find it difficult.
Because PCOS affects the woman’s menstrual cycle, as well as ovulation – it can be difficult for a woman to pinpoint exactly when her best chances of conception are.
In a small number of cases, cysts on the woman’s ovaries may have damaged the fallopian tubes, thus making ovulation harder. However, this is not common and a woman will undergo a whole host of tests over a period of time before an official infertile diagnosis is made.
If you have PCOS and want to get pregnant, making immediate changes to your lifestyle can only help your quest to conceive.
Losing excess weight, stopping smoking, avoiding alcohol consumption and drinking plenty of water can all help your cause.
According to the Polycystic Ovary Syndrome Association of Australia, following a healthy diet and exercise routine can help regulate an irregular menstrual cycle.
If you are concerned about your PCOS symptoms and how they are affecting your chances of falling pregnant – seek the advice of your doctor.
They will be able to give you advice regarding your condition, as well as offer tips on how you can optimize your chances of getting pregnant.
Treating PCOS Naturally and Easily with a Healthy PCOS Diet
As previously mentioned, insulin resistance symptoms in women with PCOS are not uncommon. In fact, the effect PCOS has on a woman’s insulin levels makes it one of the most concerning side effects.
Insulin production is heavily influenced by the food you eat, meaning making a few dietary changes could promote lower levels of insulin – which in turn will help women manage their PCOS symptoms more effectively.
If a woman with PCOS has a high-carbohydrate diet, she will automatically be affecting her sugar levels.
Carbohydrates are changed by the body into glucose, which is the sugar that the body uses as its main source of energy.
Insulin plays the important role of moving this glucose to where it is needed most. However, women who suffer from insulin resistance symptoms will need to produce large levels of insulin in order for the body to carry out this task.
Excess insulin production then leads to other side effects, such as acne, hair loss and of course, diabetes.
Nutritionists from Yale University recommend women with PCOS follow a PCOS diet that is:
- Low in saturated fats and trans fats
- High in Omega-3 fats
- High in Fiber
- High in Vitamin E
Carbohydrates should of course be avoided altogether, but it is important that any PCOS diet includes the RIGHT KIND of carbs.
For example, whole grains are much better than refined grains as they have more fiber, which encourages a slow and steady increase in a person’s blood sugar.
Food that is high in sugar should be avoided as much as possible. This includes sweeteners and artificial flavorings.
Low fat cakes and chips are okay-ish in moderation but sugary energy drinks and other sodas should really be avoided.
Something as simple as avoiding eating all your carbohydrates in one meal or mixing carbs with protein-rich foods and healthy fats foods can also help manage PCOS symptoms and insulin resistance symptoms.
Following a low-carbohydrate diet is something of a science and if you don’t get it right you can end up with other issues on top of your PCOS symptoms.
If, while following a low-carbohydrate diet you suddenly begin to suffer from dark urine, smelly breath and dehydration, seek the advice of a medical professional immediately.
It Isn’t all Doom and Gloom!
While There Is no Cure, Symptoms Can Be Greatly Reduced
You can’t really avoid the fact that PCOS symptoms are challenging to deal with and manage on a day-to-day basis.
And on top of that there is no cure, says the Polycystic Ovary Syndrome Association of Australia but over 75% of women with PCOS manage the symptoms and live a normal, healthy life.
HOWEVER, despite the physical, physiological and cosmetic effect many of these symptoms have, there is hope for women with PCOS.
The key to living with and managing polycystic ovary syndrome is persistence. Finding a treatment, be it a PCOS diet, PCOS medication or PCOS surgery, that suits you best takes time and research.
Your medical professional will want to be absolutely sure that they are in full possession of the facts before making any decisions about how best to treat your PCOS.
For example, many doctors decide to treat PCOS symptoms with recommendations regarding dietary changes and including exercise in your daily routine. Rather than shake your head or doubt the effectiveness of the plan, it is important you try it if you want to be able to manage your PCOS as effectively as possible.
In a very small number of cases, women with PCOS have no choice but to undergo surgery to help reduce or diminish their PCOS symptoms.
However, according to the Women’s Health Website, this only happens in serious cases and when doctors believe there is no other option available. Although the surgery has a high success rate, around 85-percent, it is always only a temporary measure with results usually lasting no longer than six months.
There are rare cases where a woman with PCOS symptoms may need to undergo surgery to remove a cyst that has either grown to a worrying size or that is causing the woman significant pain.
Again, these cases are rare, although surgery is nearly always successful in removing the cyst without doing too much damage to the ovary.
A Fun Paradox About PCOS
According to the right diagnosis website, Polycystic Ovary Syndrome is listed as a “rare disease”, with the Office of Rare Diseases.
This, however, is not strictly true as we now know it is actually THE most common female medical condition in women of reproductive age.
So why the listing?
It is because many of the PCOS symptoms (irregular periods, weight gain, excess hair, insulin resistance) are also signs of other medical conditions – meaning many women do not even realise they have PCOS at all.
Another reason is that Polycystic Ovary Syndrome and Polycystic Ovaries are technically different conditions, although common medical use means PCOS is generally used to refer to both.
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What is PCOS (Polycystic Ovary Syndrome): Research-based Information on Symptoms on Treatments
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