If you’ve ever struggled with infertility, irregular menstrual cycles, or other reproductive problems, please know that you’re not alone. Thousands of women out there are striving for help and healing in the face of such frustrating health issues.

One relatively unknown yet common cause of reproductive health problems is a condition known as Polycystic OvarianSyndrome, or PCOS for short. PCOS is so common that it affects as many as 1 in 10 women of child-bearing age, although even girls as young as 11 can be affected. Considered a hormonal and metabolic imbalance, PCOS is the leading cause of infertility worldwide.

10 Top Signs & Symptoms of PCOS

By definition, PCOS is a syndrome, not a specific disease. This means there is no one test or procedure that can confirm a diagnosis. Instead, clinicians must rely on a thorough evaluation of each individual woman’s signs, symptoms, lab markers, and patient history in order to determine if PCOS is the cause of her symptoms.

Effectively, PCOS is a diagnosis of exclusion. That is, a woman may receive a diagnosis only if and when other diseases that could explain her symptoms have been ruled out. As the most common hormonal disorder in women of reproductive age, PCOS impacts over 100 million women around the world, and has impacts on health that extend beyond the reproductive system to cardiovascular health, metabolic and immune health.

So, what are the indicators of this syndrome? Could you or someone you know be affected? Take a look at the following 10 signs and symptoms. They could suggest the presence of PCOS:

1. Irregular ovulation and/or menstrual cycles.

Women with PCOS may experience long or irregularly timed menstrual cycles, sporadic or missing ovulation (oligo-ovulation or anovulation, respectively) amenorrhea (absence of a period), or dysfunctional uterine bleeding (spotting). Additionally, a pelvic ultrasound may show increased thickening of the endometrial lining of the uterus. Ultrasound imaging can also show enlarged ovaries covered with a series of cyst-like formations which often resemble a “string of pearls.”

2. Infertility.

This may be one of the most stressful and troubling symptoms for many women with PCOS who are otherwise trying or would like to become pregnant.

3. Hirsutism. (Excess hair growth)

This is a medical term that refers to male-patterned hair growth in women, including excessive hair on the upper lip, chin, chest, abdomen, and/or back—exactly where most women don’t want it.

4. Hair loss.

A bit of a double-edged sword, isn’t it? In addition to excessive hair growth in unwanted places, PCOS can also cause thinning of hair on the scalp and in some cases male-pattern baldness. It’s just not fair.

5. Acne.

Breakouts can be moderate to severe, or newly developing in adulthood, when everyone else’s teenage-acne is ancient history.

6. Obesity and overweight.

Weight gain is common, as is the increased likelihood of related metabolic disturbances including pre-diabetes and diabetes. Interestingly, not every woman with PCOS will be overweight—in fact up to 50% of women affected by this syndrome may be normal weight or even underweight.

7. Darkening of skin.

This hyperpigmentation, called acanthosis nigricans, is usually the most obvious around the groin, underneath the breasts, and in the creases of the neck.

8. Skin tags.

These small flaps of excess skin typically grow around the axilla (armpits) and/or neck area.

9. Depression.

The distress caused by other symptoms can lead many women with PCOS to feel depressed, although depression or anxiety can be symptoms in and of themselves. Additionally, women with PCOS often experience a low or absent sex drive, and a lower stress tolerance.

10. Abnormal lab tests.

Blood work and other tests may indicate elevated levels of male hormones such as Testosterone (also known as androgens), and a ratio greater than 2:1 between two hormones known as the lutenizing hormone, or LH, and follicle stimulating hormone, FSH (a normal ratio is around 1:1). There are other lab markers that can further characterize PCOS, and I will discuss these in the next article in this series.

Recognize any of these symptoms in yourself or another woman in your life?

If so, be sure to consider requesting screening with labs and ultrasound. If you’re looking for a holistic, effective, and individually-tailored approach, I invite you to consult with myself and the rest of my integrative team. We’re here to help you heal, and it’s my honor to join you on your journey toward better reproductive health.

To learn more about the role of Functional Medicine in the treatment and management of PCOS,  schedule your initial consultation or a FREE 15-minute Consultation today.