Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a hormonal problem that affects the ovaries as well as other parts of the body. PCOS is most common in women of childbearing years, and if left untreated it can result in serious health problems.
An egg is released during menstruation when it does not become fertilized by sperm. Hormones are required in order to release the egg, but when there are not enough hormones produced, a woman may not ovulate. When ovulation does not occur, fluid-filled sacs – cysts – can form on the ovaries. Cysts produce their own hormones known as androgens – male hormones that can be found in women, too. High levels of androgens can cause the symptoms associated with PCOS and affect a woman’s menstrual cycle.
Common polycystic ovary syndrome signs and symptoms
To be diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome, a doctor will look for a few criteria: irregular periods, excess androgen, and polycystic ovaries. Other symptoms that may be experienced with PCOS include:
- Weight gain
- Unwanted hair growth (hirsutism): hair growth may appear on the face, arms, back, chest, thumbs, toes, and abdomen. Hirsutism is a result of excess androgen.
- Thinning of hair on the head
- Changes in mood
- Pelvic pain
- Sleep problems
PCOS can also cause many symptoms related to a woman’s menstrual cycle, leading to pain during menstruation or ovarian pain. Periods may become irregular, absent, heavy, or very light. PCOS can negative impact fertility, either making it difficult to get pregnant or resulting in complete infertility.
As each woman is different, there are additional symptoms, which one woman may experience and another not. It’s important to recognize these symptoms as part of PCOS as it can also help with diagnosis. Additional symptoms related to PCOS can include hot flashes, night sweats, panic attack, heart palpitations, bladder problems, urinary frequency, stress incontinence, vaginal dryness, joint pain, dry eyes, dry mouth, blurred vision, brittle nails, increased thirst, bowel problems like early morning nausea, bloating, irritable bowel, bowel pain, headache, chest pain, leg cramps, fluid retention, tingling fingers and toes, puffiness, breast tenderness, tiredness, lethargy, mood swings, aggressiveness, depression, low mood, loss of confidence, reduced memory and concentration, and clumsiness.
Aside from the extensive list of symptoms above, PCOS also increases your risk of insulin resistance, which is a precursor to type 2 diabetes, along with the risk of heart and vascular diseases like stroke, reproductive cancers, miscarriages, infertility, and obesity.
PCOS symptoms checklist
PCOS, as you can see, can bring along numerous different symptoms many of which overlap with other health conditions, so in order to narrow down PCOS and avoid mistaking it for another condition, here are the top 14 signs and symptoms to look for that signal PCOS.
- Irregular periods
- Hair growth on the chin, upper lip, stomach, or chest
- Weight gain, specifically around the abdomen region
- Moderate to severe acne
- Difficulty in conceiving or taking a long time to conceive
- Hair loss
- Darker pigmentation in the folds of the skin – most commonly seen in the back of the neck, under the arms, or creases of the thighs
- Skin tags
- Depression and anxiety
- Sleep apnea
- Fatty liver
- Problems with breast milk production
- Ovarian cysts
These are the primary signs and symptoms you should look for when considering the possible diagnosis of PCOS as opposed to another health condition. When you present these symptoms to your doctor, they will carry out the appropriate testing then to confirm a diagnosis of PCOS.
Reduce PCOS symptoms naturally
Some PCOS symptoms can be a nuisance and others can be problematic. Although it may seem as if your hormones are working against you, you can combat the symptoms related to PCOS in order to live a healthier life. Here are some tips to help reduce PCOS symptoms naturally:
- Consume majority of your daily calories prior to 12 noon, as it has been shown to improve insulin and glucose levels and decrease testosterone levels.
- Decrease advanced glycation end products (AGEs) in your blood by consuming fewer foods that contain AGEs. Common foods that contain AGEs include animal-derived foods along with processed foods. Studies have shown decreasing AGEs can reduce insulin levels.
- Up your intake of vitamin C and calcium, as research has shown these can help improve body mass index and menstrual abnormalities, along with other PCOS-related symptoms.
- Get adequate magnesium levels to lower your risk of heart disease, diabetes, and stroke.
- Increase chromium to help regulate insulin and glucose.
- Consume more omega-3s, which can help decrease androgen levels and testosterone.
- Limit processed foods and added sugars, and consume more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean meats.
Lastly, speak to your doctor about available medications to treat PCOS, including birth control pills, diabetes medication, fertility medications, and even surgery if necessary to increase the odds of ovulation.
To reduce the symptoms of PCOS, it may be worthwhile to adjust your diet. Certain foods may exacerbate symptoms while others can relieve them. Below is a list of foods to eat and foods to avoid while dealing with PCOS.
Foods to eat
- Leafy Greens
- Brightly colored vegetables
- White vegetables
- Organic meat
- Healthy fats (for example avocados, nuts, oily fish)
Foods to avoid
- Saturated fats
- Trans fats