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There are many reasons why your period may be late. It could be due to stress, a new schedule, or pregnancy. However, it could also mean that there is a deeper issue going on. Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, or PCOS, could be one of the reasons why your cycle is irregular. 

While not super common, PCOS does affect 1 in 10 women and often stays undiagnosed until a woman is trying to conceive. PCOS affects your reproductive system, but it also affects other bodily systems, so by getting a diagnosis and starting management you can regulate those cycles and keep your body healthy. 

What is PCOS?

Polycystic Ovary Syndrome is a condition that is caused by an imbalance of hormones in a woman’s body. More specifically,  there tends to be an overproduction of the androgen hormone. Androgen hormones are hormones that are found in greater abundance in men. They are present in women as well; however, higher concentrations are what lead to PCOS. Combined with androgens, there are also fluctuating and elevated levels of estrogen and testosterone. While the cause of PCOS is not known, doctors think that there is some hereditary link. So if there is a woman in your family who has it, it is best to get tested. 

What does PCOS cause? 

The name can be a little misleading, as it is not actually cysts in the ovaries, but built-up follicles that never matured into eggs. It is common for women to have a couple of cysts or follicles on her ovaries, but in patients with PCOS, the build-up is extreme. Often diagnosis looks like an ultrasound to see if the follicles have formed a “string of pearls,” or a linear pattern weaving throughout the ovaries. 

The follicles themselves are nearly harmless to a woman’s health, with the exception of causing potential fertility issues. However, if left undiagnosed and untreated, PCOS can lead to a range of health issues in other areas of the body like insulin resistance, obesity, diabetes, and even some forms of cancer. It can also affect your daily life by decreasing your sleep quality, causing painful periods, or making you feel constantly fatigued.

Recognizable signs of PCOS

PCOS is sometimes hard to diagnose because the symptoms could be associated with lots of things. However, if any of these symptoms are present, it is a good indicator to take a closer look. Here are a few examples. 

  • Fertility issues: This is often the reason that women discover they have PCOS. A hormonal imbalance in the body causes abnormal cycles, and in PCOS, this could look like a lack of ovulation, late periods, or even missing periods. Additionally, PCOS can cause a woman to miscarry after she conceives. If you have difficulty getting or staying pregnant, talk to your doctor about checking for PCOS.
  • Excessive hair growth or hair loss: Due to increased male sex hormones (androgens) women often find hair in areas that women do not usually grow hair, such as the chin, chest, neck, or back. Additionally, increased androgens also cause male pattern hair loss in women. 
  • Weight gain/obesity: Due to the hormone imbalances that are caused by PCOS, many women with this condition have issues with maintaining a healthy weight, as the way their bodies react to exercises and foods are not like a healthy patient. If you get diagnosed with PCOS, you may need to make lifestyle changes that cater to your needs. 
  • Inflammation: Women with PCOS are highly sensitive to inflammatory foods, and often the simplest things leave them feeling bloated and inflamed. If you feel sick, overly bloated, or fatigued after eating gluten or dairy, it may be a sign you need to speak to your healthcare provider. 
  • Painful periods: If a woman has PCOS, during her period some of the follicles will pop and be shed out of the ovaries, causing excruciating pain and a release of the built-up hormones that were in the follicles. In some cases, pain may stop you from living your everyday life. While periods are often painful for a lot of women, the pain should not stop you from your daily tasks. 
  • Irregular periods: Periods that are abnormal are common in women who have PCOS. The menstrual cycle is regulated by hormones, so the imbalances that occur with PCOS can affect the cycle greatly. Most women who have PCOS don’t experience a period at all, or months in between their periods. It is important that you tell your doctor about any cycle irregularities. 

What can I do if I have PCOS?

You can still live a healthy life if you are diagnosed with PCOS. While not curable, PCOS symptoms can be managed through lifestyle changes and medication. The first step is to talk to your doctor about any symptoms you may be having that are consistent with PCOS. Another good idea is to keep a log of your periods to show to your doctor, as this will give a more concrete idea of what’s happening. To get a diagnosis, your doctor will perform an ultrasound to see any cysts, draw blood to see your hormone levels, and need to see a period log. 

After a diagnosis, your doctor may prescribe medications or hormone treatments to regulate hormone levels. You also may be referred to a nutritionist who is knowledgeable about PCOS and how to help. Some women choose to follow a dairy and gluten-free diet, as well as eat a lot of protein. Eating gluten-free helps fight against insulin resistance. Dairy is inflammatory, so it worsens the symptoms of period pain. By cutting these out, and adding in more protein, women are able to better balance their hormones and manage their symptoms. Consult with your doctor on a diet that works for both of you. 

Our goal at PRC Grand Rapids is for you to live a healthy life by being knowledgeable about different issues that might affect women’s health. If your period is late and you have confirmed you are not pregnant, it may be a good idea to reach out to your primary healthcare provider to take a look at any potential underlying health concerns.