Polycystic ovary syndrome (more commonly known as PCOS), is a hormone disorder which can affect women in a number of ways. It can impact skin, hair growth, fertility and periods.
But with an estimated 1 in every 5 women suffering from the condition – and many women not even realising it – how can you work out whether your irregular periods actually mean you have PCOS, or if they’re just a bit here, there and everywhere for any other reason?
We asked Dr Alex García-Faura, Scientific Director at Institut Marquès, what you should look out for if you’re concerned you might have polycystic ovaries.
1 Your periods are consistently irregular
It’s one thing having the odd period which comes a day or two late, or not at all, but when they’re consistently late or a no-show, that might suggest PCOS is to blame. ‘A lot of women will experience irregular periods throughout their lifetime, says Dr García-Faura. ‘In many cases, this will not be a symptom of PCOS as irregular periods can be caused by a number of factors, including fluctuating hormones (particularly during the teenage and premenopause years), weight gain/weight loss, stress, over-exercising or contraceptive medication.’
But ‘if you are missing your period month on month, or it’s arriving at inconsistent times each month, then this could be a sign of PCOS,’ says the expert, who adds: ‘If you are concerned about why your period is irregular, for any reason, then you should seek advice from your GP.’
2 Your flow changes from heavy to light
‘Many people assume an irregular period is when a period arrives late or is early,” says García-Faura. ‘However, an irregular period also encompasses lots of other factors, such as a very heavy or light menstrual flow, an absent period, an inconsistent cycle, extreme cramping, bloating or nausea.
‘The reason menstrual irregularities are often associated with PCOS is because women with the condition have a hormonal imbalance which affects ovulation, and therefore menstruation. Everyone with PCOS will have very different experiences of menstruation, so it’s important to be aware of the inconsistencies you might be experiencing month on month.’
3 If you do have a period, the symptoms are painful
‘PCOS is caused by immature follicles which grow on the ovaries and subsequently cause an imbalance of hormones. This hormone imbalance can make periods very painful, causing cramping and bloating,’ says García-Faura. While he goes on to note that endometriosis is the condition which is usually associated with painful periods, he does note that women with PCOS can also experience ‘uncomfortable and unpleasant menstruation’.
4 You’re struggling to get pregnant
The reason people with PCOS often get irregular periods is because they’re an ‘indicator of an underlying fertility problem,’ says García-Faura. ‘As PCOS is related to a hormone imbalance that affects ovulation, women with the condition can often find it difficult to conceive,’ he says. If this is the case, García-Faura advises to ‘visit a fertility specialist who can provide advice and support’.
5 You’ve got other unusual symptoms
It’s not just irregular periods that are a key indicator you might have PCOS. According to García-Faura, other symptoms can include ‘weight gain, hair loss on the head, excessive hair growth on the rest of the body and acne’.
‘These symptoms are caused by the hormonal imbalances PCOS sufferers experience.’ he says. ‘Again, while these symptoms can also be indicative of other conditions, if you are experiencing irregular periods alongside one of the above, it may be a sign of PCOS.’
If you are at all concerned about your symptoms, it’s advisable to seek medical advice.
This article was originally published on Cosmopolitan.com