What are the most ‘common’ PCOS symptoms, according to Google?
There’s a certain stigma, and a whole set of assumptions, attached to PCOS. Whether you’re diagnosed with the condition, or suspect you may have it, you’ve probably been told that conceiving could be a struggle. Also that it’s to blame for your irregular periods.
And that, statistically, you’re likely to experience:
- increased (‘excessive’) hair growth
- weight gain
- thinning hair/hair loss
- oily skin/acne
- darkening of the skin
- skin tags
- sleep issues/exhaustion
- plus infertility, and irregular periods
PCOS takes all forms
Women with PCOS are not a circus act. And they/we deserve much better than dismissal from the doctor’s waiting list as a ‘typical case’, just minus a few ‘common’ symptoms. If we do ‘exhibit’ any of the symptoms on the list, they warrant proper investigation, and management.
It isn’t good enough to tell a woman concerned about exhaustion and hair loss that her PCOS is to blame, as if that solves the problem.
And it’s certainly not good enough to leave out other important symptoms – mostly missing from page one of Google – like PCOS and its impact on breastfeeding, and milk supply. Lots of people responding to our poll on Insta followed up with DMs around this topic in particular.
Which ‘typical’ PCOS symptoms do you have?
The answer might be ‘none’. It’s perfectly possible to be asymptomatic, and the UK’s NHS service estimates that around one in 10 women have PCOS, but more than half of this number don’t have any symptoms.
Doubling up with Laurel Fertility Care – whose team of reproductive endocrinologists are expert in helping patients conceive, despite a PCOS diagnosis – we wanted to dig deeper. Beyond fertility struggles and irregular periods, what are the ‘typical’ signs of PCOS, and how many of us actually have them?
Increased (‘excessive’) hair growth
The UK NHS introduces this one as ‘thick, dark hair on [a woman’s] face, neck, chest, tummy, lower back, buttocks or thighs’.
60% of you said ‘no’ to this one. And yet, it’s such a calling card for PCOS, in the media. Also known as hirsutism, PCOS-related hair growth is caused by an increased level of androgens (male hormones), and can take a while to show up as a symptom.
Thinning hair/hair loss
Around 70% of our Insta respondents said ‘no’ to hair thinning and loss. But for women who do experience it, the symptom is again due to increased androgenic hormones. Our hair may also break easily, and be dry or ‘lackluster’.
PCOS-related alopecia is where our hair begins to fall out, as a result of the hormonal imbalance. In this case, we usually lose hair in the front and sides of our scalp, at the parting and above the temples.
60% identified with this one. People experience exhaustion and sleep issues for lots of different reasons, but they do show up alongside PCOS, for so many women.
Again, hormonal imbalance is at the root of this symptom. Dips and surges in your delicate endocrine system can lead to lethargy, as well as trouble getting to sleep – and staying in deep shut-eye – especially during certain parts of your menstrual cycle.
On the other hand, 60% of our tribe do identify with weight gain as a PCOS symptom. PCOS can also make it really tricky to lose weight too – a tough place to be at when managing your symptoms.
PCOS makes it more difficult for your body to make use of the hormone insulin. Insulin resistance can easily cause a build-up of glucose in the bloodsteam, which can increase your androgen (male hormone) levels, leading to oiler skin, irregular periods, and weight gain.
And because we’re talking about male hormones here – those androgens, again – women dealing with PCOS-related weight gain often carry the weight across the abdomen, rather than their hips.
This may be true. But we can’t get on board with Google’s top-ranking page on this one, stating
‘Instead of having a pear shape, women with PCOS have more of an apple shape’.
The broad brush approach so rarely applies to PCOS
76% of you said that PCOS leaves you struggling with bloating. This is a tough one to manage, because a few factors are often at play. PCOS-related bloating can be due to:
- hyperstimulation of your ovaries, causing them to develop multiple small fluid-filled sacs (cysts) – this can in turn lead to bloating, and inflammation
- food sensitivities exacerbated by PCOS
- an imbalance in your body’s microbiome, known as ‘dysbiosis’, due to PCOS
Bloating can be debilitating, no-one should have to suffer in silence. Do speak to your health professional, read up on gut health too, and consider chatting with a qualified nutritionist who can pinpoint key lifestyle tweaks to help you beat the bloat.
62% of women in our poll said ‘no’ to this symptom. But for those who do experience acne and oilier skin as a result of PCOS, it’s because of an increase in androgens – specifically raised testosterone – and lower progesterone and estrogen levels.
It’s important to remember that acne and oily skin – even if hormonal – isn’t necessarily down to PCOS. It’s an incredibly common skin type and condition.
Darkening of the skin
Just 14% of respondents experience this PCOS symptom. So it’s definitely a little more rare, and shows up as skin overgrowths and patches, usually dark or brown in colour, and velvety in texture.
Known as acanthosis nigricans, these discolouration patches can appear anywhere on your body. PCOS can be at the root, but any change in your skin needs to be checked out by a doctor, as underlying health conditions may be the cause. These can include diabetes, a thyroid condition, Cushing’s syndrome and, in rare cases, cancer.
Finally, it’s listed as a rarer PCOS symptom, but 58% of our respondents said skin tags were something they experience. These small pieces of excess skin often appear in the armpits or neck area and are caused by the hormonal imbalance that comes with PCOS.
As with skin discolouration, do check skin changes or concerns with your doctor, to rule out any other serious underlying conditions.
Speak to a PCOS specialist
So, those are the ‘common’ symptoms from an easy Google search, unpacked. Some, as you can see, are really not so common. And it really is possible to have PCOS and just be exhausted, or have unexplained trouble losing weight, or problems with breastfeeding, rather than ‘presenting’ with a host of symptoms.
Laurel Fertility Care understand PCOS. And their dedicated team of endocrine specialists are experienced in helping women achieve their fertility goals, alongside a PCOS diagnosis. Connect with their clinics today, to learn more.