Spotlight on PCOS: Symptoms and Causes Revealed

Dr. Pakhi Sharma (MBBS)
Dr. Pakhi Sharma (MBBS)

General Physician | 6+ years

PCOS Symptoms
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Doesn’t it seem like every other woman you meet has PCOS? It is rampant and being heralded as a “hidden epidemic”. Before you begin to get in control of PCOS, let’s know how it happens and what are its signs. Read on for a brief guide on PCOS symptoms and causes. 

Contents:
  • blog_single_bullet_icon
    What is PCOS?
  • blog_single_bullet_icon
    What are the Causes of PCOS?
  • blog_single_bullet_icon
    What are the Common Symptoms of PCOS?
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    Don’t Have Time To Read?
  • blog_single_bullet_icon
    FAQs
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What is PCOS?

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a hormonal disorder common among women of reproductive age. When you have PCOS, your ovaries produce more than the normal amount of male hormones called androgens (specifically testosterone), which are usually present in a smaller amount in females. 

As a result of this hormonal imbalance, the ovaries are unable to release eggs (ovulation). Irregular ovulation can also cause numerous small, fluid-filled sacs to develop on the ovaries. These sacs are called cysts and give the condition PCOS its name.

The unpredictable ovulation causes irregular menstrual cycles and other symptoms of PCOS. 

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What are the Causes of PCOS?

The exact cause behind PCOS is not known. However, there are some significant factors that play a role in causing PCOS. These factors include:

1.Insulin Resistance:

Many individuals with PCOS have insulin resistance. When your body becomes resistant to insulin, your cells lose the ability to take up the glucose (sugar) required to produce energy, which causes increased blood sugar levels. This triggers the pancreas to produce more insulin to stabilise the blood sugar levels.

The excess insulin that is now in your blood (hyperinsulinemia) may lead to excess production of androgens in the body, causing difficulties in ovulation.

2.Excess Androgen Levels:

Your ovaries may produce excess amounts of androgens and lead to PCOS and its symptoms. 

High androgen levels prevent your ovaries from releasing eggs, which causes small, fluid-filled sacs to develop on the ovaries and leads to irregular menstrual cycles and other PCOS symptoms. 

3.Low-Grade Inflammation:

Studies suggest that women with PCOS have low-grade inflammation. If you are obese and have abdominal fat, the adipose (fat) tissue shows an increased secretion and release of proinflammatory cytokines

This can cause low-grade inflammation in your body, which stimulates the ovaries to produce androgens and may lead to heart and blood vessel problems.

4.Heredity:

Research shows that PCOS runs in families. Many women who have a family history of PCOS develop the condition. 

What are the Common Symptoms of PCOS?

The signs and symptoms of PCOS vary from person to person depending on their physiological condition. You may have PCOS and none of its associated symptoms.

You may observe the signs and symptoms of PCOS around the time of your first menstrual cycle or only experience it in the later stages.

Symptoms of PCOS include:

Cysts

As the name of the condition suggests, cysts are one of the foremost signs of PCOS. Your ovaries may develop cysts, which are sac-like pockets filled with fluid, visible on ultrasound.

Irregular Periods

Irregular, infrequent, prolonged or missed periods are the most telling symptoms of PCOS. You may have fewer than 9 periods a year, a gap of more than 35 days between periods, or have no periods at all.

Heavy Bleeding

In PCOS, your uterine wall lining may keep building up for a long time due to hormonal imbalance and cause heavy bleeding during your periods.

Abnormal Hair Growth

This condition is also called hirsutism and is due to the increased androgen levels in PCOS. Most women develop unwanted hair on their faces and excessive hair growth on their arms, back, abdomen, and chest.

Acne 

Excess androgens can also cause acne, especially on the back, chest, and face. Once again, the excess androgens stimulate the production of oil in the skin. This excess oil in your skin along with the dead skin blocks the follicles from which your hair grows and causes acne. 

Skin Darkening 

This condition is known as acanthosis nigricans. In PCOS, dark patches may develop on your skin, especially on the neck, armpits, groin and under the breast. 

Skin Tags 

You may also develop little flaps of extra skin on your neck and armpits. Skin tags are one of the less common skin PCOS symptoms. They typically appear in the same areas as acanthosis nigricans. 

Obesity

About 80% of women with PCOS gain weight and may experience difficulty in losing it. As androgens trigger the weight gain in PCOS, it is mainly focused around the abdomen, where men tend to carry their weight. 

Female Pattern Baldness 

The hair on your scalp may get thinner and you may lose patches of hair in PCOS. Hair loss is one of the most common hair PCOS symptoms and is believed to be caused by extra androgen production. This hair loss is medically termed androgenic alopecia and is commonly known as female-pattern baldness in women.

Infertility

As expected, the decreased frequency or complete lack of ovulation makes pregnancy difficult. PCOS is the most common cause of infertility. When pregnancy does happen, PCOS can lead to pregnancy-related complications as well. 

Headaches

You may experience frequent headaches due to the hormonal imbalance in PCOS.

If you think you are experiencing the symptoms of PCOS, consult your doctor without delay. 

Don’t Have Time To Read?

  • Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a common hormonal disorder among women of reproductive age. In PCOS, the ovaries produce more than the normal amount of male hormones or androgens, which results in irregularities with ovulation and menstrual cycles, and other PCOS symptoms.
  • Factors that play a role in causing PCOS include insulin resistance, excess androgen levels in your body, low-grade inflammation and heredity. 
  • PCOS symptoms include cysts, irregular periods, heavy bleeding, darkened skin, skin tags, abnormal hair growth, acne, female pattern baldness, obesity, headaches, and infertility.
  • If you think you are experiencing the symptoms of PCOS, consult your doctor without delay. 
  • Start your PCOS management journey with Phable. Use the Phable Care App to consult India’s leading gynaecologists, endocrinologists, nutritionists, and dieticians; order medicines; book lab tests; and get real-time remote care from the comfort of your home. Check out our store to order healthy treats, weighing scales, fitness bands, and more! We also have a PCOS Management program that provides ‎360º care. 

Frequently Asked Questions

PCOS often starts at the beginning of the first menstrual cycle for a female. It can start as early as the age of 11 or 12.

There is no test to diagnose PCOS at home. Consult a doctor if you believe you have the symptoms of PCOS. Your doctor will discuss your symptoms, analyse your medical history, and. recommend tests for diagnosing PCOS.

Yes, PCOS is a serious problem which can cause infertility in women. It also increases the risk of complications such as Type 2 Diabetes, high blood pressure, heart problems, and uterine cancer in women. 

Yes, PCOS can cause a miscarriage in women. Women with PCOS are at higher risk of certain complications during pregnancy, including gestational diabetes, pregnancy-induced high blood pressure, preeclampsia, pre-term birth, and miscarriage.

Yes, in many cases, women with PCOS have no symptoms at all and can even have regular periods. Also, PCOS symptoms do not always include irregular periods. In cases of women with PCOS but regular periods, a high level of androgens in the body can indicate the presence of PCOS.

The following are some of the most commonly seen PCOS symptoms:

  • Irregular periods
  • Cysts on ovaries
  • Heavy bleeding
  • Acne
  • Abnormal hair growth, especially on the face
  • Weight gain or obesity
  • Skin tags
  • Thinning hair or baldness

Dr. Pakhi Sharma
Dr. Pakhi Sharma, MBBS
(General physician, 6+ years)
An expert in obstetrics and medical emergencies, Dr. Pakhi Sharma, an alumni of Sri Devaraj Urs University of Higher Education and Research Centre, is a general physician working at Phablecare. She has 6+ years of work experience spread across gynaecology and obstetrics, family medicine, and medical emergencies at renowned hospitals and clinics.

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