Could PCOS Be Causing Your Irregular Periods?
Polycystic ovary syndrome, also known as PCOS, is a hormonal disorder that affects as many as 5 million American women of reproductive age. When a woman has PCOS, her body produces high levels of androgens (male hormones that are also in the female body in low quantities) and is resistant to insulin (the hormone responsible for regulating blood sugar levels). These hormonal abnormalities and the presence of multiple follicles on an ovary are what characterize PCOS, one of the leading causes of irregular periods.
Symptoms of PCOS
- Irregular Periods - Menstrual periods may be absent, occur infrequently or frequently, or are heavy.
- Infertility - PCOS is one of the most common causes of female infertility.
- Obesity - Almost 80 percent of women with PCOS are obese.
- Severe Acne - This acne occurs after puberty and does not respond to usual treatments.
- Skin Patches - Women may see patches of thickened, velvety, darkened skin.
- Facial Hair - Women with PCOS often experience excessive facial hair, like mustache hairs or beard hairs.
- Follicles - Typically, a doctor will be able to find multiple follicles on an ovary.
How does PCOS affect periods?
The average menstrual cycle is 28 days and includes one ovulation—or release of an egg—about halfway through, around day 14. A menstrual cycle that lasts anywhere between 21 and 35 days is still considered normal, with bleeding lasting two to seven days. So how are periods different with PCOS? Heavy periods and absent periods are both possible with this condition. The hormonal imbalances of PCOS can prevent ovulation and the build-up of the uterine lining. If ovulation does not occur, the uterine lining may not build up or be triggered to shed at the end of a cycle. Not ovulating can also cause a heavy build-up of the uterine lining, as the body tries to prepare for ovulation. When this happens and the uterine lining eventually does shed, periods will be heavier than normal.
Can PCOS cause period pain?
PCOS can cause period pain when periods are exceptionally heavy. Heavy flow can cause abdominal cramping and discomfort.
Can a woman with regular periods have PCOS?
Many women who have regular periods but several of the core symptoms of PCOS (such as acne, facial hair growth, obesity and trouble conceiving) can still have this condition. To be diagnosed with PCOS you must meet two of the three main criteria: high androgen levels, insulin resistance and multiple follicles on the ovary. If you are experiencing symptoms of PCOS, with regular periods, it is also possible you could have a different hormonal imbalance or disorder and it is important to talk with your doctor.
Can PCOS lead to other health problems?
Women with PCOS can develop serious health problems, especially if they are overweight. These include but are not limited to:
- Heart disease
- Sleep apnea
- Depression and anxiety
- Endometrial cancer
How to Get Regular Periods with PCOS Naturally
For those who ask, "Can you have PCOS with regular periods?" The answer is yes; in addition to hormonal medications and treatments, there are lifestyle changes you can help regulate your period.
- Manage Stress - When people are stressed, the glands that produce androgens go into overdrive. To help relieve stress and regulate hormone levels, try exercising, meditating, journaling or talking to a friend.
- Maintain a Healthy Weight - When you are overweight, your body can produce excess levels of estrogen which can prevent it from ovulating. If you are underweight, your body may not be producing enough estrogen which is necessary to build the uterine lining and have a period.
- Eat a Balanced Diet - Eating a healthy diet can improve everything from your heart health to your mental health. Strive to eat natural, unprocessed foods, dark leafy greens, high fiber foods, fatty fish, fruits and vegetables and dried beans and lentils. Avoid processed foods that are high in fat, sugar, preservatives and other additives.
Some women with PCOS may need additional support to regulate their periods, including hormonal birth control or insulin-sensitizing drugs.