It's Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) Awareness Month, which means it's time to get your learn on about a hormonal disorder that affects roughly 10 million women around the world. PCOS is often very difficult to diagnose due to its wide variety of symptoms, which can be attributed to any number of health issues. Some of those symptoms include infertility, cystic acne, hair loss, unwanted hair growth, chronic fatigue, insomnia, ovarian cysts, and, one of the most common, changes in your menstrual cycle. That's why it's so important to learn exactly what periods are like with PCOS, as they can be one of the tell-tale signs of the syndrome.
In fact, there are actually a wide variety of ways PCOS can affect your period, and they don't all come in the same bloody red package. As Dr. Mark Perloe, director of Georgia Reproductive Specialists, tells Elite Daily of PCOS in general, everyone has their own version of it, in a sense, and stresses that it's “not a one-size-fits-all condition.”
But the changes that PCOS might cause in your cycle have to do with the hormones affected: androgens (considered male hormones, like testosterone), insulin (which helps the body metabolize glucose), and progesterone (which regulates the menstrual cycle, among other things).
Interestingly, issues with periods are one of the major reasons people seek out help for PCOS, because it's often the most noticeable signal that something is going on with your body.
Now, the average menstrual cycle is about 28 days long, with one ovulation (that's when your egg is released). But a cycle between 21 and 35 days is still considered a normal period, where bleeding usually lasts for about two to seven days. While everyone is different, women typically have between 11 and 13 periods a year.
But here's what might be happening differently if PCOS is affecting your period.
1. Your Period Is Probably Irregular
According to Everyday Health, an “irregular period” is defined as having eight or less cycles a year, or having cycles that last longer than 35 days. Both of these scenarios are possible when living with PCOS.
2. Your Period Can Stop Altogether
Some women with PCOS experience amenorrhea, which is an absent period for three or more consecutive cycles.
Sometimes the periods just skip, and sometimes they stop completely. Amenorrhea is also one of the major causes of infertility, according to Mayo Clinic.
3. It Might Be A Lot Heavier
The technical name for this is menorrhagia, which is caused by low levels of progesterone associated with PCOS.
OBGYN specialist Dr. David Malloy wrote on his website,
Sometimes the small and primitive follicles produce enough oestrogen to thicken the lining of the uterus but the compacting and balancing hormone, progesterone, is absent. This can lead to the lining of the uterus becoming thicker and thicker and eventually undergoing a form of pre-cancerous change.
All of these bodily changes ultimately lead to more intense (and likely uncomfortable) bleeding for the woman during her period.
Part of the reason it's really important to have at least four menstrual cycles a year is that it prevents abnormal cells from building up and thickening in excess on the lining of the uterus. Your cycle flushes all that out, but only if nothing disrupts it.
4. Your Period Can Last A Whole Lot Longer Than It Should
A longer-than-normal period can go hand in hand with the heavy flow commonly associated with PCOS.
Of course, this can be a particularly challenging symptom, because it means irregular bleeding can last as long as a whole year. But as you long as you open up about these issues with your doctor, this can often be successfully treated.
5. Periods Can Be A Bit More Painful
Many women experience cramps during that time of the month, and those cramps actually have a name: dysmenorrhea. While many women feel better after a good snooze and a couple Advil, for others, cramps can be truly debilitating. This is called secondary dysmenorrhea, and it can also be associated with the menstrual irregularities of PCOS.
While all of these symptoms can be incredibly painful and challenging, there are ways to manage them and maintain a good quality of life. If you've experienced any of these symptoms yourself, be sure to talk to your doctor about the best treatment options for you.
Here's to all the strong-as-hell women who live with this condition every day. This month is for you, ladies.