Most women who have PCOS don’t know they have it. PCOS is a difficult condition to diagnose because it presents differently in different people, and doctors often look at PCOS symptoms individually, instead of as a collective whole.
For a long time, doctors believed ovarian cysts must be present to have PCOS, but we now know that’s not always the case.
Read on to familiarize yourself with 9 surprising PCOS symptoms so you can be an advocate for yourself, and those around you who may have PCOS, but not realize it!
Could It Be PCOS?
PCOS is estimated to be the most common hormone disorder in women, affecting an estimated 8% to 12% of women in their childbearing years. The trouble with PCOS is that many women don’t connect their symptoms back to a hormonal imbalance and can suffer unnecessarily for years before finally finding out they have PCOS.
Common symptoms of PCOS are ovarian cysts, irregular or absent periods, weight gain, acne, and excess body hair, but several lesser known PCOS symptoms may mean you have PCOS and not even know it!
Regardless of whether or not you someday plan to become pregnant, being aware of any possible PCOS symptoms and then effectively managing your PCOS is essential to your long-term health, as PCOS can increase the risk for heart disease, diabetes, and some types of cancer if left unchecked (1).
At your doctor’s office, PCOS is classically diagnosed when you have two out of three of these factors: androgen excess (male sex hormones), polycystic ovaries, and ovulatory dysfunction–but before you get into your doctor’s office, here are 9 other signs to look for.
9 Unexpected PCOS Symptoms
1. You eat healthy and still gain weight.
Weight loss with PCOS is a significant struggle thanks to increased insulin resistance and chronic, low-grade inflammation.
Struggling to lose weight even after making diet and lifestyle changes often leaves many feeling like they’re simply not trying hard enough, or doing something incorrectly. This misconception often masks PCOS symptoms and the complex hormone and inflammatory imbalance going on beneath the surface.
Download the PCOS guide for PCOS-specific weight loss tips, and ways to holistically get insulin and inflammation under control.
2. You have mid-cycle bleeding.
Irregular periods should be the first indicator that something is out of balance with your hormones, PCOS-related or not. If you have PCOS, you may notice abnormal bleeding during the middle of your cycle. This is often due to a lack of ovulation, or what’s called anovulation.
During a normal cycle, estrogen peaks just before ovulation, thickening the lining of the uterus, called the endometrium. Progesterone rises at ovulation to maintain the endometrium, but if insufficient progesterone is present at the time estrogen begins to drop, spotting may happen.
3. You’re estrogen dominant.
Estrogen dominance is one of the most common kinds of hormone imbalance in modern women, and frequently occurs in people with PCOS. Estrogen dominance symptoms include:
- Painful periods
- Tender breasts
- Fibrocystic ovaries
- Heavy periods
- Premenstrual migraines
- Water retention
In PCOS, estrogen dominance is common due to ovulatory dysfunction. When ovulation doesn’t occur, estrogen levels remain high and circulate unchallenged by progesterone.
4. Your hair is falling out.
While hair loss on your head can have several causes, PCOS is one thing you may not connect with noticing more hair fall in the shower or during styling.
Hair loss with PCOS is most often on the crown of the head, and you may also notice the rest of your hair become gradually dry, thin, or brittle.
If hair loss is patchy, this is called alopecia areata, and is most often autoimmune.
5. You have weight gain in your upper body.
PCOS often causes weight gain disproportionately in the upper body. You may notice you’re carrying more weight in your shoulders, arms, chest, and neck instead of dispersed over your hips and thighs.
Upper body weight gain in PCOS occurs due to higher levels of androgens (male sex hormones) and insulin resistance which causes increased fat storage.
6. You suffer from headaches or migraines.
Headaches or migraines are more common PCOS symptoms, and they can occur in the days leading up to your period or throughout the month. Hormonal imbalance due to estrogen dominance, or inflammation due to blood sugar imbalance are often the root causes.
Nutritional deficiencies in B vitamins and magnesium may also play a role in increased migraines with PCOS.
7. You have joint pain or body aches.
It’s common for many women to overlook joint pain or body aches as “normal”, but unless you’ve experienced an injury or other illness, pain in your body is not normal.
Chronic and low-grade inflammation is to blame for stiff and achy joints or body pain with PCOS.
In fact, recent research suggests that this chronic and low-grade inflammation may actually be the root cause of the hormonal imbalance and insulin resistance, instead of the result of PCOS (2).
8. Your skin is super oily.
While healthy levels of oil on the skin help to protect the delicate layers beneath the surface, too much oil can clog pores and cause acne breakouts.
High levels of androgens, like testosterone, can increase oil production in the skin when you have PCOS, leading to more acne–especially on your face, back, and chest.
9. You have mood swings or depression.
Also due to hormone imbalance, PCOS can cause changes in mood which often worsen just before your period starts.
Inflammation, an underlying cause of PCOS, plays a role in mental health as well hormone imbalance, which can both impact mood and depressive episodes. Hormone imbalance can also alter neurotransmitter production which impacts mood, motivation, and feelings of wellbeing.
Healing PCOS and Calming PCOS Symptoms Naturally
Polycystic ovarian syndrome is about much more than having cysts on your ovaries, and because it’s considered the most common disorder affecting fertility today, it’s essential you have access to information that helps you remain an advocate for your hormonal health.
If you’re experiencing any of the above symptoms, know that you’re not alone, and that PCOS symptoms are manageable with holistic methods.
Download the PCOS digital guide to get you started toward more comfortable periods and happy hormones!