First Signs of PCOS – 5 Symptoms that Indicate you Could Have Polycystic Ovary Syndrome
PCOS is a common health condition that’s thought to affect around 1 in 10 women in the UK.
There are lots of unknowns about PCOS – including what causes it (although, experts believe that genetics could be an influencing factor, and that lifestyle and environmental factors could play a part too) and how to cure it (as it stands, there are many ways to treat and manage PCOS, but no known cures). And that’s not all – one study found that as many as 70% of PCOS cases go undiagnosed. This could be due to the wide range of symptoms that sufferers experience and the diagnosis criteria.
All that to say: it’s not always easy to know if the symptoms you’re experiencing are, in fact, the first signs of PCOS.
So, if you’re wondering what to look for, and what the early symptoms of PCOS actually are, then keep reading.
What age do PCOS symptoms start?
If you have PCOS, you may start to experience the first signs and symptoms during puberty. That said, many don’t develop symptoms of PCOS until their late teens or early 20s, according to the NHS, and some don’t become aware that they have PCOS until they begin trying to conceive. So the frustrating, but honest, answer is that the age PCOS symptoms start varies from person to person.
How does PCOS start – what are the first symptoms?
Every case of PCOS is different and symptoms vary massively amongst sufferers. If fact, some people have no noticeable symptoms at all, making it extremely hard to get a diagnosis in some instances. That said, there are a number of signs that could indicate PCOS. If you’re concerned that any of the following symptoms could be first signs of PCOS (or associated with another health issue), contact your GP.
1. Irregular periods or no periods at all
Irregular or missed periods are some of the most common and obvious first signs of PCOS. However, it’s worth remembering that it’s very normal for a person’s menstrual cycle to vary slightly from month to month (particularly when they first begin menstruating), so experiencing irregular and missed periods doesn’t necessarily mean you have PCOS.
Your periods are considered irregular if the length of your menstrual cycle changes often, and you regularly experience late or early periods. People with PCOS tend to experience period irregularity because hormone imbalances associated with polycystic ovary syndrome can disrupt ovulation, which may result in the egg not fully developing or being released. That said, not everyone with with PCOS experiences period irregularity.
2. Difficulty conceiving
As it’s possible for PCOS symptoms to go unnoticed, for some people the first indication that they may have polycystic ovary syndrome is difficulty conceiving.
A quick caveat here: whilst some 70-80% of women with PCOS experience infertility, defined as an inability to conceive after at least 12 months of regular unprotected sex, not everyone with PCOS will struggle to get pregnant. Plus, research has found that the majority of people with PCOS trying to become pregnant will conceive and give birth without fertility assistance at least once.
It’s thought that difficultly conceiving is a symptom of PCOS because an imbalance of hormones (high levels of androgens, such as testosterone) interferes with the process of ovulation and, if ovulation doesn’t occur, then neither can pregnancy.
If you’re experiencing fertility difficulties talk to your GP to find out the root cause and explore treatment options.
3. Weight gain
Some 38-88% of people with PCOS are considered, by medicine’s definition, to be overweight or obese. Of course, PCOS isn’t the only possible cause of weight gain (think: stress, anxiety and depression, lifestyle changes, medication, and other health issues, for example) so whilst it can be an early sign, it’s by no means a reliable one.
Weight gain caused by PCOS tends to be stored around the abdomen, due to high levels of androgens, and is often referred to as a “PCOS belly”.
4. Acne or oily skin
Acne or oily skin can be early indicators of PCOS. High levels of androgens are responsible for increased oil production in the skin of people with PCOS – this can result in acne, specifically on the jawline, chin, upper neck, back, and chest.
Bear in mind though: it’s common for people going through puberty to experience acne (and there are lots of factors, including diet and mental wellbeing, that can affect your skin at any point during your life, too), so an increase in spots isn’t necessarily a symptom of PCOS.
Hirsutism is the medical name for excess hair on the face, back, chest, and tummy, and it’s something that more than 7 in 10 people with PCOS experience.
As excess hair growth – particularly in spots such as the face – can be extremely noticeable, hirsutism may be one of the first indicators of PCOS. Similarly to many other symptoms of PCOS, it is associated with high levels of androgens – it’s also often reported as one of the most distressing symptoms of PCOS.