PCOS can seriously hamper a cycle’s regularity, and a woman’s ability to ovulate, and is the most common cause female-factor infertility.
Signs and indicators of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
PCOS can only be diagnosed by your healthcare provider after ruling out a number of other conditions of infertility, but you may want to ask about the possibility if you are demonstrating a number of the following indicators or signs.
…if you have been trying to conceive unsuccessfully for more than a year.
One of the most common effects of PCOS is an increased difficulty in getting pregnant. Women with PCOS may not ovulate due to the hormonal imbalances, or have trouble supporting a pregnancy because of a lack of production of the hormone progesterone, the hormone most responsible for supporting an early pregnancy. Because other symptoms of PCOS may not be so noticeable, the inability to conceive after a year of unprotected intercourse may be a hint that something is amiss.
…if your body sometimes skips periods.
Menstrual periods signal the beginning of a new menstrual cycle, as the uterine lining from the last cycle is shed if conception did not occur following ovulation. Menstrual periods only occur if ovulation does, but PCOS can prevent ovulation from happening, so a skipped period is a likely result.
…if you have a cycle that lasts fewer than 21, or more than 35 days.
Because PCOS can disrupt your hormonal balance, your ovulations and periods may be affected. Many women with PCOS may notice abnormally long or short cycles, which can seriously impair a couple’s ability to conceive in a timely manner. A woman with an abnormally short cycle may have a luteal phase that is too short for the fertilized egg to properly implant, while those with particularly long cycles may have ovulations that are difficult to pinpoint, or simply nonexistent.
…if your cycle length varies from cycle-to-cycle.
Although some women with PCOS may notice consistently abnormally long or short cycles, others may simply notice cycle lengths that are consistently inconsistent, with the length varying. If your cycle lasts 28 days one month, then 37 the next, and 25 the cycle after that, it may be an indication of PCOS. PCOS can prevent women from ovulating regularly, resulting in cycle lengths that vary.
…if you are overweight.
Being overweight is one of the more common indicators of PCOS, as about 6 out of 10 women with PCOS have a BMI that places them above the “normal” range. PCOS affects the body’s ability to properly use the hormone insulin, which helps convert sugar into energy, resulting in a build-up of glucose (sugar) and insulin in the blood. Abnormal insulin levels can result in androgen production, which in turn results in irregular cycles and weight gain, particularly around the midsection. In fact, losing a bit weight – 5% of your body weight is a figure often thrown around – is one of the most effective ways to manage PCOS.
…if you have diabetes.
Although there is still much research left to be done on the relationship between diabetes and PCOS, it’s clear that there is a connection between the two. Diabetes affects the body’s ability to use insulin efficiently, much like PCOS, and women with both Type 1 or Type 2 Diabetes demonstrate an increased likelihood of developing PCOS. While it’s unclear exactly how diabetes correlates with PCOS, the fact that there IS a correlation is apparent.
…if you get consistently positive ovulation test results throughout your cycle.
Ovulation Predictor Kits (OPKs) are tests that you can use to determine if you are ovulating, as they search for the elevated presence of luteinizing hormone (LH) in urine. Normally, LH levels surge in the 24-36 hours prior to ovulation, so they can be used to pinpoint when ovulation occurs, and conception is possible. However, women with PCOS may have elevated LH levels throughout the entire menstrual cycle, which can make using ovulation tests an exercise in futility.
…if you have any abnormal hair growth, particularly on your face, chest, stomach, or back.
One of the more common symptoms of PCOS is the appearance (or thickening) of hair on the face, chest, or other places, known as hirsutism. The extra hair growth is a likely result of the increased androgens (male hormones) that women with PCOS have, and although it isn’t a surefire indicator of PCOS, it is a symptom that many who are diagnosed with the condition face.
…if you have acne or very oily skin.
Women with PCOS may have an increased production of the hormone dihydrotestosterone, which besides affecting hair growth (see above), also promotes oil production, which can result in clogged pores, and pimples. Women with PCOS may notice increased acne on their face (especially the jaw-line), but it is not uncommon to notice pimples in other places as well, like the chest, neck, and back.
…if you have dandruff.
While dandruff can affect anybody, women with PCOS are more likely to be affected than those do not have the condition, due to the elevated levels of androgens in the body. Dandruff is not a surefire sign of PCOS, but is something your healthcare provider will probably want to know about at a visit.
…if you have noticed any balding, or thinning hair.
Although PCOS can cause an increase in facial and body hair, it may also result in thinning hair on the head, or what appears to be pattern baldness. This is an effect of the increased male hormones in your body. Hair loss can be one of the most difficult symptoms of PCOS to deal with, but your healthcare provider can help you come up with a treatment plan, including proper diet, exercise, and possibly helpful procedures.
…if you experience depression, anxiety, or mood swings.
Most literature about PCOS only deals with the physical aspects of the disorder, when in actuality the mental and emotional effects can be equally, if not more, troubling. Because PCOS affects your hormone levels, it’s common to notice mood swings, anxiety, and depression, even before you start trying to conceive. Addressing these issues is just as important as managing the physical effects, as the added stress and anxiety is counter-productive for your fertility.