PCOS and Irregular Periods: How Long Can Periods Be Delayed?
- Dr. Sreelekha Daruvuri
- 3 Min Read
- Fact Checked
PCOS (Polycystic ovary syndrome) is a common health problem that affects 1 in 10 women of reproductive age group (15-45 yrs). It is caused by hormonal imbalance and despite being a relatively common problem, many women do not know they have it. Approximately, 70% of women with PCOS go undiagnosed. PCOS can not only cause irregular periods and acne but also mood changes and depression – directly or indirectly. Women with PCOS can experience a range of health complications including reduced fertility and baldness.
What causes PCOS?
Although the exact cause of PCOS is not known, it can be related to multiple factors working together. These include:
– High levels of Androgens: Androgens, commonly called male hormones are present in females too. A woman with PCOS has elevated levels of androgens which prevents eggs from being released during each menstrual cycle. This is the cause behind their delayed or irregular periods. They also have an abnormality in the way the brain communicates with the ovaries leading to increased androgen production.
– Insulin resistance: Insulin is a hormone that controls how the food you eat is changed into energy. Insulin resistance is when the body’s cells do not respond normally to insulin. This leads to Acanthosis nigricans or darkening of skin on the neck and higher levels of male androgens.
– Genetics: PCOS seems to be inherited. Female relatives or children of patients with PCOS are at increased risk of having inherited the condition.
Other factors include childhood obesity, unhealthy lifestyle and excess adult weight.
Common symptoms of PCOS
– Abnormal Periods: Periods are considered normal if they happen every 21-35 days. PCOS can cause delayed periods or absent periods. Periods can be delayed up to 5-6 months in few women. There can be regular periods but blood flow can become scanty, for less than 2 days or heavy for more than 6-7 days. These can be accompanied by pain and weakness.
– Acne and hair issues: Due to abnormal levels of male hormones, oily skin with moderate to severe acne (unresponsive to regular treatment), can occur especially near the jaw line. Excessive hair growth on the face and hair thinning over the scalp leading to baldness can also occur.
– Weight Gain or difficulty losing weight, skin tags can also occur
PCOS diagnosis and treatment
There is no single test to diagnose PCOS. Diagnosis includes history, physical examination, blood tests (to check for imbalance in hormonal levels), and a pelvic ultrasound (to check for follicles or cysts). PCOS can not be cured but symptoms can be managed with diet and lifestyle changes such as:
– Low calorie diet
– Regular exercise
– Medications like birth control pills, oral anti-diabetic medication (metformin) and androgen blocking medication.
Treatment is tailored to each woman according to the symptoms, other health problems and whether she wants to get pregnant or not. Get in touch with a Gynecologist to see what you require if you are diagnosed with PCOS.
Health risks of PCOS
There are various health risks associated with PCOS. These include:
– Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease due to insulin resistance
– Metabolic syndrome (abnormal cholesterol, blood pressure and sugar levels with obesity)
– Some women can have thick lining in the uterus due to PCOS which makes them prone to Uterine cancer
– Other problems like sleep disorders, depression can also occur.
Diet and exercise can help one to lose weight and if lifestyle changes do not work, medications are an option. Do not ignore if periods are missed or delayed as they can complicate your health. Reach out to a Gynecologist if you have missed periods, irregular periods or acne not responding to treatment, to get evaluated. Download the MFine app and take a PCOD test which will help determine your hormone and androgen levels along with a risk assessment for complications such as diabetes. Furthermore, the test will also evaluate your Thyroid and Prolactin levels. Doctors suggest that this test be done on the second or third day of your menstrual cycle.