Symptoms of PCOS
Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is an endocrine disorder that affects between 6 and 12% of women of childbearing age. It is a hormonal imbalance that can disrupt the normal functioning of the ovaries, as well as many other aspects of a woman's health.
We therefore have around a 1 in 10 chance of being affected. This is why it is important to know how to recognize the symptoms. PCOS is often characterized by irregular menstrual cycles, a tendency toward hyperandrogenism—that is, high production of male hormones—and, of course, those famous polycystic ovaries that give the condition its name. But this clinical picture can vary considerably, affecting each woman differently, with a spectrum of symptoms that goes well beyond these classic manifestations.
In this article, we list the 7 most recurring symptoms of PCOS!
Quick reminder: where does PCOS come from?
Even today, the causes of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) are not clearly understood. However, several key factors appear to play a role in its development:
- Hormonal imbalance: Women with PCOS typically have high levels of androgens (male hormones), which can lead to symptoms such as excessive hair growth, acne, and menstrual irregularities.
- Insulin resistance: Insulin is the hormone that regulates blood sugar levels. This insulin resistance can lead to high levels of insulin in the blood, which can increase androgen production and worsen PCOS symptoms.
- Chronic inflammation: Studies have shown that women with PCOS often have inflammation. This inflammation could contribute to insulin resistance and excess androgen production.
- Genetic factors: PCOS appears to have a hereditary component. Women who have mothers or sisters with PCOS are more likely to develop the condition themselves.
- Environmental and lifestyle factors: Factors such as obesity, lack of exercise and an unhealthy diet can worsen PCOS symptoms and contribute to its manifestation.
1. Menstrual irregularities
One of the most common symptoms of PCOS is menstrual cycle irregularities. It becomes unpredictable . In a “normal” cycle, the ovary releases one egg each month: ovulation . But with PCOS, this mechanism is often disrupted due to a hormonal imbalance : the body produces more androgens than usual, which can prevent ovulation.
The menstrual cycle can therefore be disrupted . And it's not just a matter of inconvenience. This irregularity can have more serious consequences, such as endometrial hyperplasia . In the absence of ovulation, the endometrium continues to thicken, which can cause problems in the long term.
Fortunately, there are treatments to help regulate these erratic cycles. Options range from oral contraceptives, which help stabilize hormonal levels, to specific medications that encourage the body to maintain a more regular cycle. This is a conversation to have with a doctor, who can guide you toward the best solution for your unique situation.
As we have just seen, this syndrome can play spoilsport in the ovulation process, which is nevertheless essential for conceiving. In an ideal scenario, ovulation is the key moment when an egg is released and ready for fertilization. But with PCOS, this process can be interrupted, making the meeting of the egg and sperm less frequent, and therefore, pregnancy more difficult to achieve.
There are a whole range of treatments to counter the effects of PCOS on fertility. Certain medications, such as clomiphene citrate, can stimulate ovulation and encourage the ovaries to return to a more regular rhythm of egg production. In some cases, if medications are not enough, one may turn to more advanced procedures like gonadotropin injections or laparoscopic surgery, which can improve the chances of ovulation.
And for those who need a little extra help, there is assisted reproductive technology (ART) . In vitro fertilization (IVF), for example, can help by taking eggs directly from the ovaries to fertilize them in the laboratory, before returning them to the uterus. It is a promising option for those who face obstacles on the path to motherhood due to PCOS.
👉 Did you know? PCOS is the leading cause of female infertility!
Hyperandrogenism is also a symptom of PCOS. This is when there is an excess of male hormones, androgens. These androgens are normally present in small amounts in the female body, but when they appear in too large numbers, they can cause a whole host of changes. This can manifest as acne, denser or unusual hair growth, or even hair loss on the scalp.
However, there are ways to rebalance all of this using anti-androgens. They can help reduce hair growth, improve skin condition and slow down hair loss. The birth control pill, particularly those designed to combat hyperandrogenism, may also be a solution, helping to regulate both menstrual cycles and androgen levels.
For skin conditions like acne, topical treatments and skin care can play a supportive role, complementing medications. At Gapianne, our favorite treatment is the Oh My Periods facial treatment which helps fight hormonal acne .
You can also make small lifestyle changes, such as eating a balanced diet and exercising. These tips are simple, but they can really help improve symptoms.
Among the many aspects of PCOS, pain is often a common symptom. This pain, varying in intensity and nature, manifests itself mainly in the pelvic region. They are often a reflection of the tumultuous activity of the ovaries, marked by the presence of cysts which can exert pressure or cause sporadic pain.
But that's not all. Cycle irregularities, typical of PCOS, can also lead to painful periods. And when an egg is released, which is less common in women with PCOS, ovulation itself can cause pain, a phenomenon known as 'mittelschmerz'. Pain is not the only symptom of ovulation !
However, these pains are not inevitable. There are solutions to manage them. Like for example, CBD oil from Équilibre , which is a real gem for pain thanks to its anti-inflammatory action. Combine it with Lunéale's anti-pain roll-on to precisely target the area where you hurt.
Also read: How to relieve period pain?
When we talk about polycystic ovaries, we often imagine a somewhat alarming situation, but in reality, it is a little less dramatic than it seems. Polycystic ovaries are a typical feature of PCOS , but they are not the same as the classic ovarian cysts that one may encounter outside of this condition. “Polycystic” refers to a multitude of small follicles that resemble cysts and are often located just below the surface of the ovary, giving a somewhat “string of pearls” appearance on ultrasound.
These follicles are actually unborn eggs that have not matured properly, unlike "typical" ovarian cysts, which are usually fluid-filled sacs that can form following ovulation. Ovarian cysts can come and go without much hassle, but PCOS follicles often stay put, contributing to hormonal imbalance.
From a clinical perspective, having polycystic ovaries is not a problem in itself, but they are a sign of the hormonal disorder PCOS . They do not require specific treatment if they are not accompanied by symptoms, but their presence can help diagnose PCOS.
In terms of management, treating PCOS as a whole can often reduce the number of these follicles and help restore some order to the ovulatory cycle. Options like taking medications to stimulate ovulation or lifestyle changes for those who are overweight can help reduce the effects of polycystic ovaries.
6. Weight gain
With PCOS, weight can sometimes become a tricky subject. The connection between PCOS, weight gain, and insulin resistance is quite strong : Insulin is the hormone that helps our bodies use sugar from food for energy. But when the body resists the action of insulin, sugar remains in the blood, and the body responds by producing even more insulin. And what is happening? High insulin encourages fat storage, especially around the belly.
So, how can we break this unfavorable cycle? Diet and exercise are your key allies. Eating a diet high in fiber, low in sugar and processed foods can help manage blood sugar levels and therefore insulin. Add quality protein and healthy fats to support satiety and energy.
On the sports side, we aim for regular physical activity. It's not about transforming into an Olympic athlete overnight, but rather finding activities that you enjoy and that you can incorporate into your routine. Brisk walking, swimming, yoga, dancing... The important thing is to move, preferably every day.
Managing weight with PCOS can be a challenge, but with the right action plan and perhaps the help of a nutritionist or fitness trainer, you can make great strides.
7. Mood disorders
Another symptom of PCOS is fluctuating moods. Indeed, the link between PCOS and mood disorders is well documented . Hormonal imbalances can affect neurotransmitters in your brain, and anxiety and depression can creep in without warning.
But the good news is that there are solutions to keep these mood disorders at bay. Psychological support can be a reassuring first step. Talking to a professional can help you navigate these sometimes murky waters. Behavioral or talking therapies can open doors to more stable emotional well-being.
Food supplements are also natural solutions to rebalance hormones. The Miyé “Hormonal Dysregulation” supplements are a good choice. It helps regulate emotional (mood, sleep, stress) and physical (hot flashes, cramps, hormonal acne, irregular cycle) imbalances, linked to hormonal variations.
Symptoms evolve over the course of life
You may not have known it, but the symptoms of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) can evolve and vary throughout a woman's life. This is why it is important to be vigilant about your body, and to learn about yourself. Here's a look at how PCOS symptoms typically progress over the lifespan:
- Irregular periods: This is often one of the first signs of PCOS. Young women may have long, irregular, or absent menstrual cycles.
- Hyperandrogenism: Increased male hormones that can lead to excessive hair growth (hirsutism), acne, and sometimes hair loss (androgenetic alopecia).
- Weight problems: Weight gain or difficulty losing weight is common, often accompanied by insulin resistance.
- Fertility Problems: Menstrual irregularities can lead to ovulation and fertility problems.
- Complications during pregnancy: Increased risk of complications such as gestational diabetes, hypertension and preeclampsia.
- Metabolic symptoms: Increased risk of developing metabolic disorders such as type 2 diabetes, hyperlipidemia and hypertension.
- Cardiovascular risk: Increased risk of cardiovascular diseases due to metabolic disorders.
- Persistent metabolic symptoms: Problems related to insulin resistance and being overweight may persist and worsen.
- Risk of endometrial cancer: Women with PCOS may have a slightly increased risk of endometrial cancer due to prolonged periods without menstruation (anovulation).
- Risk of type 2 diabetes
I think I have PCOS, what should I do?
If you suspect you have polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), it is crucial to see a doctor for a PCOS diagnosis . The process of diagnosing PCOS is not based solely on the symptoms observed; it requires a complete medical examination in order to provide you with the appropriate treatment, whether it is medical treatment or natural treatment . It is therefore important to make an appointment with your doctor who will help you with these procedures.