Are Missed Periods Something To Worry About?
A regular, relatively pain-free period signifies a healthy reproductive system. The average cycle length will vary based on factors like age. However, most women should have a period every 23-28 days. Yet, there are rising cases of women experiencing different lengths, timeframes, and intensities of menstruation. Close to 1 in 4 women experience irregular menstruation, which can be worrisome. There are many reasons for irregular menstruation, including stress, pregnancy, fibroids, lifestyle changes, or contraception. For some, the issue is polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), a potentially harmful condition.
Yes, you may have PCOS
A healthy period and reproductive system require a delicate balance of hormones like estrogen or progesterone. When these hormones are out of balance, specific disorders, like PCOS, can happen. Polycystic ovary syndrome occurs when the ovaries produce excess androgens, which are male-dominant hormones. The overproduction of androgens causes various symptoms, including small cysts or sacs on the ovaries. PCOS affects as many as 12% of women of reproductive age. The causes of PCOS are unclear but thought to be due to a combination of genetic and environmental factors.
Common PCOS symptoms
Polycystic ovary syndrome can cause many symptoms, including severe lower abdominal pain, which can happen outside the menstrual cycle. PCOS also causes hirsutism, the excess hair growth under the chin, back, and chest areas. Other common symptoms include acne, unexplained weight gain, thinning hair, and infertility. PCOS can also cause small cysts on the ovaries. Symptoms can be periodic or chronic and can vary from person to person.
The PCOS cycle
Women with PCOS will likely experience irregular menstruation. Progesterone and estrogen are necessary for a healthy period. While the ovaries produce small amounts of testosterone, PCOS leads to an excess of these androgens. This, in turn, impacts ovarian function. The drop in estrogen and progesterone means women may have light periods, missed periods, or irregular periods. The formation of cysts on the ovaries can also cause infertility for some women.
The right diagnosis matters
Simply having an irregular period alone is not a proper diagnosis of PCOS. There are several reasons for abnormal periods, so a qualified professional should perform tests, especially if additional symptoms are present. The doctor will discuss current symptoms and check family history. A blood test can determine current hormone levels and help rule out certain conditions that impact hormones, like hypothyroidism. From there, an ultrasound can also help detect cysts and confirm a PCOS diagnosis.
Untreated PCOS can cause severe emotional stress and physical discomfort and impact the quality of life. The additional stress of hair loss, hirsutism, and infertility can lead to even more hormone imbalances. Furthermore, if left untreated, PCOS can be a precursor to metabolic syndrome, obesity, and type 2 diabetes due to excess insulin resistance. PCOS also increases the risks of endometrial cancer. Treatment requires a combination of prescriptions and lifestyle changes. Hormone medications, diabetes medication, and birth control pills are common prescriptions for this condition. Diet changes, stress reduction, and exercise can also help rebalance hormones. To ensure success, PCOS requires ongoing management and support from doctors, dieticians, and mental health professionals.
Don’t overlook irregular periods
For some women, irregular menstruation is a common sign of PCOS. The condition impacts the delicate balance necessary for proper ovary function. PCOS can affect women for years, causing severe emotional and physical strain. Understanding PCOS means recognizing the signs and taking action, especially if there are plans for pregnancy. With the proper treatment and lifestyle changes, women can limit symptoms and resume regular periods.