How do I know if I have PCOS?
Real Mom Problem
“How do you know if you have PCOS? Are there symptoms that can tell you?”
- 1. Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is the most common cause of infertility in women
- 2. Although PCOS can make it more difficult to conceive, a diagnosis of PCOS does not mean you cannot have children
- 3. Talk to your doctor to learn more about the symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment of PCOS
Real Mom Solutions
Do you think you might have PCOS? Get woman-to-woman advice on what to look for, and how to handle it.
How to Recognize, Diagnose, & Treat PCOS
The problem with PCOS is there are many symptoms, but it's hard to put it all together without the blood testing and maybe even an ultrasound to see the ovaries. The most common symptom with PCOS is sporadic periods; either going months without one, then getting them heavy and with a lot of cramping, or having two in the same month. Many women don't even know they have it until they can't get pregnant. Not all women have the same symptoms. Because it is a combination of a hormonal imbalance and not releasing eggs, it's hard to know if you have it or not. Many women could have similar symptoms but have something completely different. If you think you may have PCOS, the best thing to do is go to the doctor and have them do blood work and discuss with them the meaning of it, and what they can do to help. Another thing to do is to start temping and using ovulation predictor kits to monitor if you ovulate or not. Since with PCOS you don't ovulate very often, it will help to track it.
A blood test will show if you have insulin resistance or not which is indicative of PCOS, but you can still have polycystic ovaries without a resistance to insulin. My blood work showed that I am not insulin resistant; however, an ultrasound revealed that I have severe polycystic ovaries. Common symptoms of PCOS are irregular periods (mine were anywhere from 45-60 days and not consistent), growth of facial hair, weight gain and/or difficulty losing weight, acne or oily skin. Even though I was not insulin resistant my reproductive endocrinologist diagnosed me with PCOS and put me on Metformin to help regulate my cycles.
There are lots of symptoms you could possibly have that may lead you to think that you have PCOS. My symptoms started long before I had ever heard the term. I had always had really, really rough periods. I would vomit any time I tried to eat or drink something. My body would shake and I would be really cold one minute, and burning up the next. They were physically painful and debilitating. I would have to stay home from school as a teenager because it hurt so badly. As an adult, this is a lot more difficult to live with because I am in the military. My job requires that I am able to completely focus on the task at hand. That becomes hard when I have a period. Another symptom of PCOS that seemed to be a blessing, until I started trying to conceive, was not having very many periods. My cycles have always been very irregular. There was a time when I was a teenager that I went nine months without a period. Nowadays, I average about three or four every year. This became a curse when I decided to try to start a family. When I first raised concerns with my doctor, he told me it sounded like PCOS, but that it couldn't be because I didn't fit the typical mold of patients. Oftentimes, women with PCOS are overweight and may have an abnormal amount of hair growth. Because I am 5'8" weighing in at 130 lbs, with no abnormal facial hair, he assumed I couldn't have PCOS. Eventually, when I wasn't getting pregnant, I was referred to a specialist who did blood work and found out that I really did have it. Now, I just finished taking progesterone which will hopefully induce a period soon so that I can start my first round of Clomid. My advice is, even if you don't fit the typical mold of PCOS patients, listen to what your body is telling you. If there are symptoms, get tested. Know your body and don't be afraid to ask for a second opinion.
I have always had painful periods. I would be hunched over in pain but my periods are completely regular, to the day. I even have the same symptoms before every period and that starts exactly a week before. I had a cyst rupture that was such extreme pain I thought my appendix had burst. Many tests later they finally confirmed PCOS. I have had one miscarriage in less than a year since my hubby and I have started trying to conceive. Although my doctor said it won't be impossible to get pregnant, I have a long road ahead of me. I don't temp or anything but I have an app on my phone called My Days. You track your periods and when you should ovulate. You also can enter when you have sex, take a pill, and much more. It isn't the best but I would much rather just do it more with the hubs than chart and temp and what not. My advice is to find an OB you love and trust because you may end up seeing him a lot; I know I do. I also go to and endocrinologist to have my hormones checked, and my regular doctor checks my over all well being. Also find a good friend to talk to because this journey will be rough; from seeing many people get pregnant mostly on accident, to the numerous doctor visits.
Get the book "Taking Charge of Your Fertility" and chart. That tells you so much information about your cycle, including PCOS symptoms, if you're ovulating, and your luteal phase. Then you can talk to a doctor. For me, I don't have traditional PCOS--I'm not insulin resistant but I get cystic ovaries and have other minor issues that all add up and make my cycle wonky. I didn't respond to Clomid, and I over-stimulate to injectable drugs. There are all sorts of herbs and supplements you can try before going to the big drugs - but you need to talk to a naturopath or an MD who specializes in irregular ovulation. The more you know your body and cycle, the more you'll be able to figure out if it's "working" or not. Information = a better chance at conceiving. PCOS is complicated. If your ovaries randomly hurt during sex or feel like they are popping or rupturing, it may not be ovulation. Charting will let you know if you ovulate, and if the pain in the ovaries isn't associated with ovulation, it could be cystic ovaries.
My periods became irregular- they went from 28 days to 32-36 days. I had a dull aching pain on my ovaries and that's how I knew I needed to go get checked out. Other signs of PCOS are rapid weight gain, facial hair, long irregular periods or no periods at all, and acne. PCOS isn't a "death sentence" for trying to conceive. Women can still conceive it just may be harder. Talk to your doctor and figure out a plan. Some doctors want to put you on Metformin, some will give Clomid to get you ovulating or get healthier eggs produced, and when you aren't trying to conceive your doctor may want you on birth control to regulate your hormones. They can confirm PCOS via ultrasound or laparoscopic surgery. My doctor confirmed mine that way--no blood work.
My symptoms are: extremely irregular periods (I only ovulate about once a year) and facial and body hair (I don't have a ton but I get black hairs here or there occasionally on my chin and on my breasts, also around my belly button). I also can not lose weight. Exercising actually puts weight on me. I joined the gym for six months doing mostly aerobics as to not gain too much muscle tone and I gained over 25 lbs. I don't have the cysts that normally accompany PCOS, however.
Learn From One Mom's PCOS Journey
I was diagnosed with PCOS when I was a teenager. My mother put me on birth control to regulate my periods. It didn't work. All it did was ruin my gallbladder. I knew something was wrong because I would have a four-day period and then I would go for five to six months without another one. Sometimes I would be in such intense pain I couldn't walk or talk. That is when a cyst would rupture; the most horrible pain imaginable. Besides the periods, I have always had excess facial hair. Not just a fine line above my lip or on my chin, it was full on fem-tash and goatee. I was gaining weight no matter my exercise regime or diet. I started getting skin tags, a common symptom of PCOS. I also had quite a bit of acne, but I assumed it was normal, because what teen doesn't sport spots? But here I sit at 30, with three amazing blessings. I still have more hair on my body than my husband, zits like a teen, a jiggly, fleshy inner tube around my middle, and periods that come one to three times a year. When we were trying to conceive our first, we wound up suffering several miscarriages. There was no explanation for the miscarriages. We suffered through seven of them while losing eight babies (first pregnancy was twins). We gave up on trying for any more. One New Year Eve's, we went at it in alcoholic bliss! Two-and-a-half months later I didn't think anything of not having another period, because I hadn't had one for about four months at that point. I was pregnant with my first baby that stuck after four years of trying. My second child was a bit harder, it took us eight years for her, and then eight months after her we had baby number three. My story is not typical. My OB said I was the most fertile PCOS patient he has ever seen. I was blessed. We are currently trying for number four but are once again running into some trouble. It is not impossible for PCOS women to have children, but it does make it harder.