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Do You Have PCOS? Look Out for These Surprising Signs

written by Skye Sherman - Nov 1, 2021
medically reviewed by Dr. Christine Bishara, MD - Dec 14, 2021

Photo Credit: by
Photo Credit: by

Have you heard of PCOS? Do you know someone with infertility or someone who has struggled with PCOS? If so, then you know the pain this common disease can cause. If you’re a woman, you need to be able to identify the warning signs of PCOS so that you can protect yourself and obtain early detection of this life-altering disease.

PCOS is short for polycystic ovary syndrome and is also known as polycystic ovarian syndrome. According to the Office on Women’s Health at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, “Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a health problem that affects 1 in 10 women of childbearing age. Women with PCOS have a hormonal imbalance and metabolism problems that may affect their overall health and appearance. PCOS is also a common and treatable cause of infertility.”

To learn more about the warning signs of PCOS and what you should do if you are concerned you might have PCOS, read on.

What is PCOS?

PCOS is a relatively common health problem that is caused by an imbalance of reproductive hormones. This imbalance causes issues in the ovaries, which are responsible for making the egg that is released each month as part of a healthy menstrual cycle. As the Office on Women’s Health explains, “With PCOS, the egg may not develop as it should or it may not be released during ovulation as it should be.”

As the Johns Hopkins Health System explains it, PCOS is a “condition in which the ovaries produce an abnormal amount of androgens, male sex hormones that are usually present in women in small amounts. The name polycystic ovary syndrome describes the numerous small cysts (fluid-filled sacs) that form in the ovaries.”

However, some women with PCOS do not have cysts, and some women without the disorder do develop cysts. So the presence or absence of cysts is not necessarily proof of the existence of PCOS.

Basically, what happens from PCOS is when ovulation is prevented. When a woman doesn’t make enough of the hormones needed to ovulate, the ovaries can develop many small cysts, which make hormones called androgens.

According to the Johns Hopkins Health System, “Women with PCOS often have high levels of androgens. This can cause more problems with a woman’s menstrual cycle. And it can cause many of the symptoms of PCOS.”

This is PCOS in a nutshell. But what kind of symptoms will you be able to detect in yourself?

How to tell if you have PCOS

Wondering if you have PCOS? You may be struggling with infertility or experiencing other symptoms, which may lead you to wonder if you have PCOS or some other condition. Doctors are not yet sure exactly what causes PCOS but it seems to be linked to high levels of androgen and/or high levels of insulin.

The most common and obvious symptom of PCOS is missed or irregular menstrual periods. According to the Office on Women’s Health, “irregular periods can lead to:

● Infertility (inability to get pregnant). In fact, PCOS is one of the most common causes of infertility in women.

● Development of cysts (small fluid-filled sacs) in the ovaries.”

Both of these can cause serious issues in a woman’s life. The good news is that PCOS is both common and treatable, and when it comes time for childbearing, fertility drugs can be a major help. Be sure to eat libido-boosting foods to help get you in the mood! Alternatively, birth control pills are an option when you’re not ready to have children yet.

However, infertility and cysts are not the only results of PCOS. There are other symptoms that you should also be on the lookout for.

“Some of the symptoms of PCOS include:

● Irregular menstrual cycle. Women with PCOS may miss periods or have fewer periods (fewer than eight in a year). Or, their periods may come every 21 days or more often. Some women with PCOS stop having menstrual periods.

● Too much hair on the face, chin, or parts of the body where men usually have hair. This is called ‘hirsutism.’ Hirsutism affects up to 70% of women with PCOS.

● Acne on the face, chest, and upper back

● Thinning hair or hair loss on the scalp; male-pattern baldness

● Weight gain or difficulty losing weight

● Darkening of skin, particularly along neck creases, in the groin, and underneath breasts

● Skin tags, which are small excess flaps of skin in the armpits or neck area.”

Though PCOS can happen at any age after puberty, most women find out they have it in their 20s and 30s, when they visit their doctor after struggling to get pregnant. You can still get pregnant if you have PCOS, but you’ll need to talk with your doctor about ways to alleviate your hormonal imbalance and then ovulate as a result.

Anyone with the reproductive and genetic makeup of a woman can get PCOS. The Office on Women’s Health states, “Women of all races and ethnicities are at risk of PCOS. Your risk of PCOS may be higher if you have obesity or if you have a mother, sister, or aunt with PCOS.”

If this applies to you, you should visit a doctor to get screened and find out if you have PCOS. It doesn’t only affect the ability to reproduce, so even if you don’t plan to have children, you’ll still want to get your PCOS under control. Johns Hopkins states that “Women with PCOS are more likely to develop certain serious health problems. These include type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, problems with the heart and blood vessels, and uterine cancer.”

Testing for PCOS usually involves a pelvic exam but may also involve ultrasounds and/or a blood test. You should visit a doctor if you are experiencing symptoms of PCOS or any other health condition that concerns you.

What to do if you have PCOS

What should you do if you have PCOS? Seeing a doctor is the essential first step, not only to discuss your symptoms and get tested for PCOS, but also to come up with a treatment plan for moving forward on a life with PCOS.

It’s important to note that obesity can increase insulin levels and make PCOS symptoms worse. In addition, many women with PCOS have insulin resistance, which means their body cannot use insulin well so insulin builds up in the body and leads to higher levels of androgens.

It also seems that genetics play a role in PCOS, so if your mother or sister has it, you are more likely to also have PCOS. If you have PCOS, don’t fret. You should research the condition, discuss your concerns with your doctor, and consider joining support groups so you can hear from other women with PCOS.

You may also want to look into some alternative treatment options that can help ease your symptoms. For example, did you know that incorporating pumpkin seeds into your daily diet might help to restore hormonal balance and tame your PCOS?

According to, the benefits of pumpkin seeds for women with PCOS are “reduce hair loss, contains essential fatty acids, help reduce cholesterol, good source of magnesium, and decreases the risk of osteoporosis in women after their menopause.”

You might want to consider adding pumpkin seeds to your regular diet so you can experience the health benefits of this delicious superfood. They can even help you sleep better if worrying about PCOS is keeping you up at night.

PCOS cures and treatment options

There is no cure for PCOS, but it is manageable, and it does not necessarily mean you will not be able to get pregnant. Many women with PCOS go on to experience pregnancy, childbirth, and motherhood.

The usual treatment for PCOS is medication such as Clomid (Clomiphene). While medication can’t cure PCOS, it can help to reduce the symptoms and prevent some health problems, and might even help you be able to get pregnant despite PCOS.

To move forward, a doctor will likely put you on a treatment plan. This might consist of a change in diet and activity, taking prescription medications to cause ovulation, diabetes medications, birth control pills if you do not plan to get pregnant, or other medications to treat symptoms such as acne and hair growth.



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