Does PCOS cause pain?

If you have PCOS then you are likely aware of the many symptoms associated with the condition. But what about pain? Does PCOS cause pain? We dig into this topic in this article and evaluate the evidence. Ready to learn more about PCOS and pain, the more unusual symptom of PCOS? Keep reading.

What is PCOS?

Polycystic ovary syndrome, more commonly known as PCOS, is a common endocrine condition that affects 1 in 10 people assigned female at birth. 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, PCOS can be managed with lifestyle changes and medication.

Symptoms of PCOS: is pain a known symptom?

PCOS is a syndrome which means it is made up of a group 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 and trying to conceive.
  • 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.

Pain is not considered a symptom of PCOS. But that doesn’t mean that your pain and discomfort aren’t real. Many people with PCOS have noted pain and discomfort both anecdotally and within the research. Let’s look at whether PCOS causes pain.

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), found that in individuals with PCOS, nearly a quarter of all symptom concepts expressed were in relation to pain and discomfort. Pain was identified in various forms including abdominal, pelvic and/or back pain.

Pain in the abdomen, pelvis and back

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 intervention.

The abdominal pain seen in some with PCOS may be related to endometriosis. It appears that PCOS and endometriosis may be linked in some capacity as some research has shown that people with PCOS have a higher likelihood of also having endometriosis.

Endometriosis is an inflammatory condition where tissue that is similar to the lining of the uterus grows outside of the uterus. It is associated with severe pain in the abdomen and pelvis, infertility and reduced quality of life.

Irritable bowel syndrome is another condition associated with PCOS that may play a role in increased pain in the abdomen. It is a condition that affects the gastrointestinal system causing symptoms like bloating, stomach cramps, constipation and diarrhoea. There does appear to be a correlation between PCOS and IBS prevalence, as seen in the research.

Breast pain

Cyclical breast pain linked to the menstrual cycle is a common symptom associated with periods. Because of the fluctuation of hormones in people with PCOS such as oestrogen and progesterone, this may lead to breast pain at other times of the month. This may result in swelling and heaviness of the breast, dull and aching pain, and lumpy breast tissue.

If you are concerned about the feeling or look of your breasts changing, it is essential that you speak to your doctor or healthcare professional to rule out anything more serious. Learn more at CoppaFeel.

Pain during sex

Pain during sex is known as dyspareunia. Dyspareunia can occur for many reasons including vaginal dryness, vaginal atrophy, endometriosis or sexual trauma.

Although PCOS isn’t directly linked to pain during sex, unfortunately, research suggests that people with PCOS have been found to be more likely to suffer from sexual dysfunction. This could be because of hormonal imbalances in people with PCOS or even body image concerns.

How to manage PCOS pain

Managing pain effectively varies from person to person. It is imperative to find a way to manage pain that suits you and your symptoms. Here are some tips that may help to manage PCOS pain.

Speaking to a healthcare professional

You shouldn’t have to live with pain. Speak to your doctor or healthcare professional to investigate the cause of your pain and discuss potential diagnosis and treatment routes.

Using supplements

Certain supplements may be helpful to support pain management. Magnesium in particular has been known for centuries for its role in pain management. Taking a magnesium supplement, using a magnesium lotion or eating more magnesium-dense foods like pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, almonds and spinach may be helpful. Always speak to your healthcare professional before trying a new supplement regime or diet.

Try using a heat pack

Heat may help to quell pain, especially pain in the abdomen or back. Using a heat pack specifically designed for use on the skin is essential to prevent burns or damage.

Key takeaways: does PCOS cause pain?

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 as it may be a sign of another health condition like endometriosis or IBS.

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Alex Okell ANutr Founder and Editor

Founder and Editor | Registered Associate Nutritionist

  Founder of Be The Collective LTD [The PCOS Collective & The Endo Collective] Alex Okell ANutr is a London-based reproductive health nutritionist with experience in research, private practice and digital media. She holds a Master’s degree in Nutrition from King’s College London and has co-authored papers with the University of Cambridge, King’s College London, The Food Foundation and the Food Standards Agency. Alex offers 1:1 PCOS support in our virtual PCOS clinic.

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