Polycystic ovary syndrome (more commonly known as PCOS), is a hormone disorder which can affect women in a number of ways. It can impact skin, hair growth, fertility, and periods.
But with an estimated one in every five women suffering from the condition—and many women not even realizing it—how can you work out whether your irregular periods actually mean you have PCOS, or if they're just a bit here, there, and everywhere for any other reason?
We asked Dr. Alex García-Faura, Scientific Director at Institut Marquès, what you should look out for if you're concerned you might have polycystic ovaries.
1. Your periods are consistently irregular.
It's one thing having the odd period which comes a day or two late, or not at all, but when they're consistently late or a no-show, that might suggest PCOS is to blame. "A lot of women will experience irregular periods throughout their lifetime," says Dr. García-Faura. "In many cases, this will not be a symptom of PCOS as irregular periods can be caused by a number of factors including fluctuating hormones (particularly during the teenage and premenopause years), weight gain/weight loss, stress, over-exercising, or contraceptive medication."
But "if you are missing your period month on month, or it's arriving at inconsistent times each month, then this could be a sign of PCOS," advises the expert, who adds: "If you are concerned about why your period is irregular, for any reason, then you should seek advice from your doctor."
2. Your flow changes from heavy to light.
"Many people assume an 'irregular period' is when a period arrives late or is early," says the doctor, adding: "However, it also encompasses lots of other factors, such as a very heavy or light menstrual flow, an absent period, an inconsistent cycle, extreme cramping, bloating or nausea."
He goes on: "The reason menstrual irregularities are often associated with PCOS is because women with the condition have a hormonal imbalance which affects ovulation, and therefore menstruation. Everyone with PCOS will have very different experiences of menstruation, so it's important to be aware of the inconsistencies you might be experiencing month on month."
3. If you do have a period, the symptoms are painful.
"PCOS is caused by immature follicles which grow on the ovaries and subsequently cause an imbalance of hormones. This hormone imbalance can make periods very painful, causing cramping and bloating," explains Dr. García-Faura. While he goes on to note that endometriosis is the condition which is usually associated with painful periods, he does note that women with PCOS can also experience "uncomfortable and unpleasant menstruation."
4. You're struggling to get pregnant.
The reason people with PCOS often get irregular periods is that they're an "indicator of an underlying fertility problem," says the doctor. "As PCOS is related to a hormone imbalance that affects ovulation, women with the condition can often find it difficult to conceive," he says. If this is the case, Dr. García-Faura advises to "visit a fertility specialist who can provide advice and support."
5. You've got other unusual symptoms.
It's not just irregular periods that are a key indicator you might have PCOS. Others, the doctor notes, can include "weight gain, hair loss on the head, excessive hair growth on the rest of the body, and acne."
He explains: "These symptoms are caused by the hormonal imbalances PCOS sufferers' experience. Again, whilst these symptoms can also be indicative of other conditions, if you are experiencing irregular periods alongside one the above, it may be a sign of PCOS."
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This article originally appeared on Cosmopolitan.com/uk. Minor edits have been made by the Cosmo.ph editors.