PCOS is a common condition, affecting roughly 6-10% of individuals worldwide. Although it is becoming more recognised, as you may suffer from a variety of symptoms that will be individual to you, you may not initially be aware you have it (1).
Typical symptoms include:
- irregular/no periods
- difficulty getting pregnant (however this does not mean you cannot get pregnant!)
- excessive hair growth, known as hirsutism, most commonly on your face, chest, back or buttocks
- weight gain
- thinning hair or loss from your head
- acne or oily skin
If you do display any of the above and believe you may have PCOS it is important to talk to your GP for a diagnosis (2).
Even if you’re displaying multiple symptoms as listed above, your GP will want to rule out any other potential rare causes of the same symptoms. They may check your blood pressure, as well as carrying out hormone tests to identify whether excess hormone production is caused by PCOS or another condition related to your hormones.
Whilst you’re advised to visit a GP if you do have symptoms, the above is not the criteria that will be used to diagnose whether you have PCOS or not – confusing? I know!
Instead, there are 3 criteria a GP will use to diagnose if you have PCOS as outlined by the ‘Rotterdam criteria’ (3, 4):
- They will ask you if you have irregular or infrequent periods. – This is a sign your ovaries are not regularly releasing eggs (ovulating). If you’re unsure, simply making a note of your cycle, and how you feel at different times of the month can be helpful.
- They will perform simple blood tests to identify if there is any excess ‘male hormones’ such as testosterone in your blood. – Sometimes just signs of excess male hormones even if the blood test returns as normal can be seen as an indication.
- Scans may* be done to see if you have any polycystic ovaries (follicles which are fluid-filled sacs in which your eggs develop – in your ovaries).
*As only 2 of the above 3 criteria need to be present for a diagnosis of PCOS, you might not necessarily have to have an ultrasound scan for confirmation of the condition.
Following a diagnosis of PCOS, it is important to work with a healthcare professional who can provide individualised care, and find ways of managing the symptoms that work for you.