What do weight gain, irregular periods, acne and more have in common?

Woman sitting in a garden

By Dr. Sharon Stills, NMD

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is one of the most common hormonal disorders among women of childbearing age — but unfortunately for the millions of women with PCOS, it’s also one of the most overlooked and misdiagnosed.

Are you experiencing symptoms like irregular periods, acne, thinning hair and weight gain around your middle? When women come to me for help and describe these kinds of issues, I always make sure we take time to explore whether PCOS could be the underlying hormonal imbalance driving their symptoms.

So how about we do the same for you and take that time right now? Here are 5 signs to look for that can indicate PCOS.

5 signs you may have PCOS

Women with PCOS produce excess amounts of androgen hormones, such as testosterone. Higher androgen levels can throw levels of other hormones off balance — especially estrogen.

As a result, many of the first signs that you have PCOS can be related to this particular hormonal imbalance. These include:

  1. Excess body hair: Noticeable hair growth on the chin, upper lip and along the cheek and jawline, or excess hair growth in other places like the chest and back are a prime sign of PCOS. Approximately 70% of women with PCOS have some form of excess body and facial hair — a condition called “hirsutism.”

  2. Acne: Breakouts on the face, but also on the chest or upper back, may be triggered by excess testosterone.

  3. Thinning hair: When hair loss along the scalp is related to PCOS, it tends to resemble male-pattern baldness.

  4. Weight gain: As many as 70% of women with PCOS are also insulin resistant, meaning their bodies need to produce greater than normal amounts of insulin for cells to convert sugars into energy. That extra insulin triggers the production of even more testosterone, which can cause you to store more fat, especially belly fat.

    This weight-insulin-PCOS connection also creates a vicious feedback loop: when you start gaining weight, it further increases your insulin resistance, which spikes insulin production, which promotes the production of even more testosterone, which contributes to weight gain -- and the cycle repeats. To make it worse, cells in belly fat can produce estrogen, which amplifies the stubborn weight gain.

  5. Irregular periods: Women with PCOS frequently experience irregular cycles (with or without ovulation) or may temporarily stop menstruating due to hormonal imbalance. Other menstrual clues of PCOS include: cycles lasting longer than 5 weeks; heavy, prolonged periods; and going more than 2 months without menstruating (not caused by pregnancy).

Is PCOS causing your infertility?

While the first signs of PCOS can be difficult to endure, the worst consequence of PCOS for many sufferers is infertility.

Somewhere between 4% and 18% of women of childbearing age are unable to get pregnant because of PCOS. Menstrual cycles may be unpredictable or without ovulation (anovulatory or non-ovulating).

But there’s also good news for women with PCOS who want to get pregnant: when you rebalance your hormones, you can improve your fertility enough to get pregnant. .

For example, if you’re overweight, losing even a small amount of total body weight (5% to 10%) is often enough to help bring hormone levels back into balance, alleviate symptoms, and restart normal ovulation. In one study of PCOS and infertility, 70% of participants who lost 5% of their body weight became pregnant without any further medical intervention!

What you can do to restore hormonal balance

You can learn more about natural solutions for PCOS along with how to make changes to your diet to start finding relief from your symptoms. Spoiler alert: there’s a lot you can do on your own — naturally and without drugs — to help with PCOS!