PCOS- how it might affect you in your teens, 20’s, 30’s and beyond… (Part 1 of 3)

Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) is a problem connected with hormone imbalance that I commonly see in my family practice. Women of different age groups present to my office with various concerns- from irregular periods to fertility problems to blood sugar dysregulation. These are the reasons why PCOS might affect you:

Teenagers: Getting your period for the first time (known as ‘menarche’ in medical terms) is an exciting event. This usually happens between ages of 9 and 15. The first year or two after menarche your periods may be irregular. Young women with PCOS, however, may continue to have irregular, infrequent or prolonged periods. Many patients may have cycles (from first day of period to the next time you have your period) longer than 35 days. Although having infrequent periods may feel like a positive thing for some people (especially those who have premenstrual cramps or mood changes) it can lead to problems with fertility or increase chances of uterine lining thickening or cancer in the future.

Other symptoms associated with PCOS include acne, hair growth (facial hair or hair on chest, belly and back) and weight gain.

All of these symptoms can be very difficult to manage physically and socially. Problems with acne or weight can lead to other mood issues. Talk to your doc if you think any of these symptoms might apply to you and some tests can be done to see if you have PCOS.

20’s and 30’s: The biggest concern that I see in this age group of women with PCOS is considerations for fertility. Due to irregular and infrequent cycles the number of ‘windows of opportunity’ for pregnancy are also more sparse.

It is important to see a doctor if you think you might have PCOS because there are tests that we can do and also some treatments to help with the symptoms and aid fertility. If you need a referral to see a fertility specialist it would also be useful to have this done earlier.

40’s and beyond: Oftentimes women with PCOS may present to my clinic with problems with blood sugar. This is because PCOS can cause insulin resistance and can lead to diabetes or heart disease. Men and women over 40 are recommended to have a blood test of their blood sugar and cholesterol levels to check for any risks that may lead to other health problems. Talk to your doc if you are in this age group and are concerned.

Next time I’ll talk a bit more about tests that we do for PCOS and things that can be done to help with different symptoms. Stay tuned!

Dr. Charmaine Ma, BSc(Pharm), MD, Dip Fam Med (HK), CCFP