Early signs of PCOS and what to look out for
What is PCOS and its symptoms?
As more and more individuals are speaking up about their PCOS, this may be an acronym you are familiar with. But what exactly is PCOS ?
Well, read on as our Mooncup® Advisor Cathy gives us the low down on polycystic ovary syndrome, and what the early signs of PCOS to look out for are.
What is PCOS?
To start with, for those of you that might not have heard of this condition before, what is PCOS?
PCOS is a common condition that affects how the ovaries work. Although it’s difficult to know exactly how many people have PCOS, the estimate is that a whopping one in ten people in the UK may have it (providing they have ovaries that is!). However, more than half of them may not have any symptoms at all.
To understand PCOS properly, we must first know what the functions of a healthy ovary are. So here’s a biology 101 pitstop for you all:
- The ovaries are part of the reproductive system
- They are two almond shaped organs about the size of a grape, located either side of your uterus (womb)
- They have two main functions:
- to develop and release an egg as part of the menstrual cycle (ovulation)
- to release the hormones oestrogen and progesterone. These regulate the menstrual cycle and fertility – ie. having babies! The ovaries are also responsible for producing small levels of testosterone (an androgen/sex hormone).
- Oestrogen is the hormone that basically tells your body to develop breasts, instructs the fat distribution (hips, legs and breasts – thanks oestrogen….) and develops your reproductive organs.
- Progesterone prepares your body for pregnancy by causing the uterine lining to thicken. If the egg is not fertilised, then your body signals the womb to shed its lining- otherwise known as menstruation.
According to the NHS website, the three main features of PCOS are:
- irregular periods – your ovaries don’t regularly release eggs (ovulation)
- excess androgen – higher amounts of “male” hormones, which may cause visible signs like excess body or facial hair
- polycystic ovaries – your ovaries become enlarged and contain a large number of sacs filled with fluid (follicles) surrounding the eggs. But despite the name, you do not actually have cysts if you have PCOS.
To be given a PCOS diagnosis, you generally need to have at least two of these features. Not everyone with PCOS will have all three.
Now that we all have a degree in biology, it’s time to visit what may cause PCOS and how it might affect you. Pitstop number two…
What causes polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)?
Unfortunately, it isn’t known what the exact cause of PCOS is, but there is evidence that it can run in families. What we do know is that people who have PCOS often have abnormal hormone levels.
Many people with PCOS are resistant to the hormone insulin, which controls blood sugar levels. This means their bodies have to produce more insulin to overcome this. Additionally, people with PCOS can have altered levels of other hormones, including testosterone.
These altered hormone levels can then lead to a range of symptoms which I have gone into further below.
What are the early signs of PCOS and what should you look out for?
The signs of PCOS differ from person to person, and can vary in severity too. Some people experience all signs, some only a handful. Not very helpful in terms of quantifying, I am aware!
Signs of PCOS can include:
- irregular periods or no periods at all
- pelvic pain
- difficulty getting pregnant (because of irregular ovulation – production and release of the egg, or failure to ovulate)
- weight gain (caused by the insulin resistance)
- thinning hair and hair loss from the head
- oily skin or acne
- excessive hair growth (hirsutism) – usually on the face, chest, back or buttocks
- anxiety and depression
While weight gain can be a symptom of PCOS, being overweight can unfortunately also lead to further increased insulin resistance. This in turn can make the symptoms of PCOS worse.
Is there treatment for PCOS?
Unfortunately, there is no cure for PCOS. However, if the signs of PCOS are noticed, the symptoms can be treated. There are many different treatments for PCOS symptoms depending on the type and severity of symptoms. These treatments range from lifestyle changes to laparoscopic surgery.
Four treatments for PCOS
- Follow a healthy, balanced diet. A healthy BMI rage is between 18.5-24.9. For those with a BMI above this, weight loss can lead to a significant improvement in PCOS symptoms as it will reduce the levels of insulin produced. Winner, winner, healthy dinner!
- Hormonal medicines like the contraceptive pill or intrauterine system, aka IUS. Speak to your doctor if you’re considering hormonal contraception. If you’re thinking about using the Mooncup menstrual cup alongside IUS or IUD, we recommend looking at the information on our website first.
- A range of oral medications may be used to treat different aspects of PCOS, from controlling blood sugars to encouraging the body to ovulate.
- Laparoscopic surgery is an invasive procedure performed under general anaesthetic. You should only consider it after discussions with your doctor or gynaecologist.
There are also medicines available to treat some PCOS symptoms, such as excessive hair growth.
So, there you have it, a whistle stop tour of signs of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome and what to look out for. While I may have written this blog in a light-hearted style, I assure you that having PCOS is no joke! For some people it is a daily struggle to deal with its signs and symptoms. If you are suspect you may have PCOS, it’s always best to have a conversation with a healthcare professional.
The Mooncup® can help to know your cycle
We know from the feedback we get from medical professionals and our community that a Mooncup menstrual cup can be helpful in monitoring your flow. The Mooncup works by collecting your period blood rather than absorbing it, like a tampon would. You can use the millilitre markings on the side of the cup to roughly track your blood loss. This may be helpful information to share with your doctor if you’re concerned about your periods.
Did you know that we offer a unique Advice Service run by medical health professionals, like Cathy, who can be contacted with any Mooncup usage queries? Here to help you make the switch.
Check out these testimonials from Mooncup® users living with PCOS.