PCOS: 7 Surprising Symptoms of Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome

After spending plenty of years talking about HPV and cervical cancer, PCOS has quickly become the women’s medical ailment du jour. Short for polycystic ovarian syndrome, PCOS is a hormonal endocrine disorder in which the levels of estrogen and progesterone are imbalanced. Though it sounds bizarre, it’s actually pretty common. According to the Office on Women’s Health, between one in 10 and one in 20 women of childbearing age has PCOS. And while the best known marker of the condition is irregular periods, there are some more surprising symptoms as well.

1. Infertility

female reading pregnancy test

PCOS is the most common cause of female infertility. | iStock.com

PCOS can interfere with ovulation, and women who have the disorder often experience irregular periods. Not every woman is able to predict her next period down to the exact day, but those with PCOS often have seriously abnormal periods. And seeing as becoming pregnant has everything to do with your menstrual cycle, sporadic ovulation can throw a wrench in your family planning. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says this disorder is the most common cause of female infertility.

2. Ovarian cysts

female holding her belly due to a stomach ache

Ovarian cysts can cause a lot of pain. | iStock.com

Sure, it’s in the name, but the presence of ovarian cysts is still worth mentioning. Often benign masses on the ovaries, cysts caused by PCOS can come and go. They also cause uncomfortable, and sometimes severe, pelvic pain. Women who experience painful cysts are dealing with much more than just your typical period cramping.

3. Weight gain

female feet on a weighing scale

Women with PCOS often struggle with their weight. | iStock.com

It’s common for women with PCOS to struggle with excessive weight gain. And to make matters even more frustrating, losing the weight can be a lifelong battle. Because certain foods don’t digest as easily as they do for those with regular hormone levels, many women with the hormonal imbalance struggle to maintain a healthy weight, no matter how hard they try.

Furthermore, as a result of being obese or overweight, other serious health problems could arise. Such issues, according to Healthline, include diabetes, hypertension, and high cholesterol. Office on Women’s Health reports 50% of women with PCOS will have diabetes or pre-diabetes before the age of 40; and the risk of heart attack is four to seven times higher among women with PCOS.

4. Hair troubles

Woman washing her hair

Women with PCOS often struggle with excess body hair. | iStock.com/esp2k

This condition comes with elevated levels of testosterone, which can be frustrating for women because it can take a toll on physical appearance. According to Mayo Clinic, it’s not uncommon to see excessive facial and body hair.

On the flip side, a woman with PCOS can also experience male-pattern balding or thinning hair. Thanks to the aforementioned presence of increased male hormones, the Office on Women’s Health lists this nasty side effect as a very real possibility.

5. Adult acne

woman squeezing pimple in front of mirror

Acne is a common symptom of PCOS. | iStock.com

No woman enjoys spotting a huge zit on her face, but if you’re constantly breaking out with no reprieve or other explanation, it could be a sign of PCOS. It’s common knowledge that female acne can be attributed to stress, sweat, or that time of the month, so it’s no surprise that women with a hormonal imbalance are often cursed with frustrating acne.

6. Anxiety and/or depression

woman looking sad at her office desk

Women with PCOS often feel depressed. | Thinkstock

While it may be difficult to pinpoint exactly what’s causing a person to have anxiety or depression, the Office on Women’s Health says women with PCOS may develop either, or both, of these mental health conditions. As part of a complete PCOS analysis, it’s important to mention any concerns of anxiety or depression when you’re discussing symptoms with your doctor.

7. Sleep apnea

Husband and wife asleep in a bed

Sleep apnea can impact women with PCOS. | iStock.com

According to the PCOS Foundation, sleep apnea can be a symptom of the endocrine disorder, so it’s important women be aware of whether or not the symptom is affecting them. This sleep disorder can leave you feeling exhausted during the day, putting you at risk for dozing off at work or even when you get behind the wheel. If you experience sleep apnea, be sure to discuss it with your doctor.