Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) is a hormonal condition that affects 12-21% of women of reproductive age. Women with PCOS may experience a range of health complications including reduced fertility.
PCOS is attributed to varying symptoms including hair loss, ovarian cysts, chronic fatigue, and changes in a woman’s menstrual cycle. Despite being a relatively common condition, the differing symptoms of PCOS can make it difficult to diagnose, resulting in up to 70% of women with PCOS remaining undiagnosed.
That’s why it’s important for women to learn what periods are like with PCOS. As it’s not a ‘one size fits all’ condition, you may be experiencing a symptom of PCOS and not be aware of it.
Let’s look at some common characteristics of periods with PCOS.
Consistently irregular periods
Some women’s periods run like clockwork, and some do not. But while it’s completely normal to have the odd period that arrives a day or two late, when your periods are consistently sporadic, it may be an indication of PCOS.
The average menstrual cycle is 28 days, but anything between 21 and 35 days is considered within normal range. An irregular period can be defined as having eight or less cycles each year, or having cycles that last longer than 35 days.
Sporadic timing of your period may be attributed to a number of factors, including PCOS, so it’s important to get checked out if your cycle is out of regular range.
No periods at all
Some women with PCOS experience an absence of periods for three or more consecutive cycles. This is known as amenorrhea, and it’s one of the major causes of infertility in women with PCOS. After all, if there are no periods, that means no egg is being released as part of a menstrual cycle.
It’s a good idea to keep note of your cycle, so you can always tell how long it’s been since your last menstruation. If you notice a three month break between periods, see a GP about a referral to a gynaecologist who can investigate the cause.
Very heavy periods
Sometimes women with PCOS experience heavier bleeding during their menstrual cycle. The technical name for this is menorrhagia, and it’s caused by low levels of progesterone associated with PCOS.
Menorrhagia is characterised by severe bleeding that lasts for seven days or longer. The average blood loss during a regular period is usually 40-40ml. Women suffering from menorrhagia can pass more than 80ml of blood, and also experience clotting during their period.
Many women are raised to believe that heavy periods are just a ‘part of being a woman’. While periods are typically a bit heavier in adolescence, overly heavy periods may be a sign of an underlying issue, and should be investigated.
PCOS Painful Periods
Heavy periods usually go hand-in-hand with more uncomfortable symptoms such as cramping (dysmenorrhea). While many women often feel relief after applying a hot water bottle and taking Paracetamol, for others menstrual cramps can be absolutely debilitating.
Painful periods are a very common symptom of both PCOS and endometriosis. If you are experiencing pelvic pain during your period or between periods, it’s important to find the root cause. There are a number of options available to treat the underlying condition and manage your symptoms so you don’t continue to suffer.
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Where to seek further advice
Every woman’s body is different. The menstrual symptoms mentioned above are not necessarily a sign of PCOS, but they may also be. The only way to know for sure is to seek advice from a women’s health specialist.
Under 18? Check out our specialist paediatric gynaecology service.
Northside Gynaecology is an all-women practice offering treatment for PCOS in Brisbane, Queensland. Our practice is located at three convenient locations in Kedron, North Lakes and Caboolture.