What is PCOS?
Polycystic ovary syndrome, more commonly known as PCOS, is a common endocrine condition that affects 1 in 10 people with ovaries, in the UK. It is commonly under-diagnosed meaning there are likely to be many people with PCOS who are simply unaware. Although unfortunately it cannot be cured, it can be managed by lifestyle changes and medication.
PCOS is diagnosed using the Rotterdam criteria, which specifies 2 of the 3 following must be met:
- Irregular periods
- High levels of testosterone
- Polycystic ovaries
The signs and symptoms of PCOS
As PCOS is a syndrome it means it is made up of a collection of symptoms. Symptoms most commonly begin to display around reproductive age, although this is not the case for everyone.
The actual symptoms as well as the severity of each experienced can differ drastically from person to person, meaning it will display differently in everyone, adding to the complexity of diagnosis.
Commonly listed PCOS symptoms include:
- Irregular periods: this can be an irregular cycle or a complete lack of periods.
- Infertility: as many can suffer with irregular cycles, or lack of ovulation this can have an impact on fertility.
- Excess hair: commonly experienced on the stomach, face and legs.
- Hair loss: thinning of or loss on the scalp.
- Oily skin and acne: increased testosterone can lead to congestion and inflammation in the pores resulting in acne and oily skin.
However, less commonly cited, are the effects of PCOS, including pain and discomfort.
So, does PCOS cause pain?
As previously highlighted, how individuals experience PCOS will vary significantly. Nevertheless, recent qualitative research, (e.g. interviews to help understand opinions or experiences), in individuals with PCOS found that nearly a quarter of all symptom concepts expressed were in relation to pain and discomfort. Pain was identified in various forms including bodily, abdominal, pelvic or belly pain, as well as headaches.
The most frequently reported pain and discomfort symptom was cramping, it is important to note this is not always in relation to menstruation. The intensity appears to be higher for those with PCOS and as such warrants consideration for medical management.
Whilst everyone may not experience pain or discomfort with PCOS, it appears there is an increased risk if you suffer from the condition. If it is something you’re suffering with it is important to consult a healthcare practitioner to help you manage the symptoms.