Can A Teenager Have PCOS?
Yes a teenager can have PCOS or PCOD.
PCOS or PCOD can start before a teenager has her first period or attains menarche as it is referred to in medical terminology.
The awareness about PCOD or PCOS as a medical condition is increasing.
And with periods and menstruation slowly losing their taboo status in society – parents are asking more and more questions about PCOS.
Unfortunately misinformation and myths about PCOS are in abundance and most parents who want clear cut helpful answers are unable to find them.
This article is collection of 20 common questions that are asked by parents about PCOS. And the questions are answered by endocrinoloigist Dr Kishan Delampady
About the author
Dr Kishan Delampady MBBS, MD (Medicine) DM (Endocrinology) is consultant in Department of endocrinology and diabetes at Manipal Hospital, Bengaluru. He has expertise in treating diabetes, PCOS, growth abnormalities, thyroid, osteoporosis and other aspects of endocrinology.
What is PCOS?
PCOS or Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome describes a combination of symptoms like irregular menstrual periods, acne and excessive body hair.
PCOS affects about 1 in 10 young women/ teenagers. PCOS is commonly seen in overweight/obese women. PCOS has serious medical implications.
What are the signs of PCOS in a teenager? How can I tell if my daughter has PCOS?
The signs of PCOS in teens are slightly different from the signs of PCOS in adult women.
Many times the diagnosis of PCOS can be delayed considerably in teens because the irregular menstrual cycles of PCOS can be mistaken for the irregular menstrual cycles of early puberty.
In the first few years after a girl starts her period it is normal for her to have irregular menstrual cycles.
However you must go to a doctor in the following cases –
- If after two years of starting her periods your daughter still has irregular periods – it is definitely a red flag. In this case irregular would mean that the gap between her periods is shorter than 20 days or greater than 45 days.
- Your daughter is already 15 years old and has not had her first period yet.
- Your teenage daughter has persistent acne which is not getting better with treatment.
- Your daughter has excessive body hair on the upper lip, chin, neck, sideburn area, chest, upper or lower stomach, upper arm, and inner thigh.
- Or if her scalp hair is thinning.
What Causes PCOS in Teens?
The cause of PCOS in teens or adults is not completely understood.
However it is likely that
- There is genetic component – which means that PCOS may run in families
- Poor lifestyle habits contribute to the evolution of PCOS.
Poor lifestyle is a combination of unhealthy eating habits and a sedentary life without regular exercise.
What are unhealthy eating habits?
Eating calorie-dense,nutrient-poor foods constitutes unhealthy eating habits
Foods that should not be eaten are –
- Sugar-sweetened beverages
- Sports drinks
- Fruit drinks
- Most“fast foods”or those with added table sugar
- High-fat or high-sodium processed foods
- Calorie-dense snacks
What should a teenager eat for good health?
- Eat more fruits and vegetables
- Eat less fat
- Eat fewer refined carbohydrates
- Eat timely regular meals
- Avoid constant munching during the day, especially after school and after dinner
Why does PCOS cause irregular menstrual cycles?
To understand why PCOS causes irregular menstrual cycles – we must first understand how normal menses happen.
Under normal conditions – the ovaries produce hormones (estrogen/progesterone) which orchestrate the monthly menstrual cycles. The hormones from the ovaries create a structure called follicle every month and this follicle grows big and releases an egg. If this egg is not fertilized by a sperm, the thickened inner lining of the uterus is shed resulting in menstrual flow.
When a woman has PCOS –
- The ovaries make too many small follicles instead of one big one and as a result – no egg is released. When this happens – the hormone levels go out of balance. And this can cause irregular periods.
- The ovaries make too much testosterone (male hormone) that causes excess hair and acne.
Is PCOS a serious problem?
PCOS is not an immediately life threatening condition. However it can lead to long term health consequences like
- Infertility – Women suffering from PCOS do not ovulate regularly and it may take long time for them to become pregnant
- Diabetes – Women suffering from PCOS have resistance to insulin (a hormone which controls blood glucose levels) and at a later stage they run the risk of developing diabetes
- Heart disease – The combination of obesity, high cholesterol and diabetes is a risk factor for heart attack or stroke
- Uterine cancer – Irregular cycles and lack of ovulation increases the risk of cancer
What causes the dark patches, extra hair and acne?
- Extra hair growth or growth of hair with the male pattern of distribution – such as on the upper lip, chin and body are caused by high levels of testosterone (male hormone) can cause male pattern hair growth
- Acne is also caused by high levels of the male hormone testosterone.
- Dark patches on the neck and in the armpits is caused by high levels of insulin
Excess hair can be removed by shaving, depilators, electrolysis or laser. It is not true that these treatment can cause hair to grow faster.
What is the test for PCOS? How is PCOS diagnosed?
PCOS is diagnosed based on symptoms, examinations and tests.
The first tests to be done are the blood tests. The blood tests are done to determine whether the signs and symptoms are being caused by some other diseases and not PCOS.
Blood tests advised usually are tests for pregnancy, prolactin level, testosterone, thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH), and follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH)
If PCOS is confirmed, blood glucose and cholesterol testing are usually performed.
Thereafter a pelvic ultrasound is done to look for polycystic ovaries.
What are the self-help ways to cure PCOS? Or what are the home remedies for PCOS?
Weight loss is the key strategy to manage PCOS
In most cases – losing 5 to 10 % of the existing body weight can normalize menstrual cycles and correct glucose levels.
The diet that helps in PCOS is a diet in which – sugar, fast foods, deep fried items, chocolates, bakery products are reduced or preferably completely eliminated.
In their place whole grain cereals, non-starchy vegetables, fruits, sprouted grams, fat free dairy products, nuts and beans must be included in the diet. It is recommended that the amount of red meat consumed be reduced and replaced with egg white/fish/chicken breast.
Find a free downloadable healthy weekly menu with all recipes in this article Weekly Menu For An Indian Family With All Recipes
What are the lifestyle changes that will help cure PCOS?
A healthy diet coupled with exercise is the best because it can help by reducing the weight which will reduce the symptoms of PCOS
What is the treatment for PCOS?
- Oral contraceptive pills are prescribed in some cases to treat excess hair growth and make periods more regular. The doses used to treat PCOS are determined by the treating doctor. Never try self-prescription. Doses used for birth control are useless and even harmful
- Antiandrogens are used which prevent or block the effects of too much androgen.
- Drugs like Metformin are sometimes used to help the body use insulin in a better way
- Drugs that trigger ovulation, are used when pregnancy is desired
All drugs must be taken under the supervision of an endocrinologist. Self-prescription may be dangerous.
Is PCOS curable?
PCOS is not curable. But symptoms can be controlled with medicines
How long does it take to cure PCOS?
PCOS cannot be cured. The medicines used to reduce symptoms may work differently on different people.
How will I know if my pre-teen is at risk for PCOS? What can I do If she is at risk?
There are no absolute indicators to suggest PCOS in preteen age groups.
However if a girl is overweight/obese she is at risk for PCOS.
Also if the mother of the girl has history of PCOS she is at risk for PCOS.
Does stress cause PCOS? How can I reduce my teen’s stress?
Stress per se cannot cause PCOS. but stress for long time can cause slight irregularity in period intervals.
PCOS itself can sometimes be emotionally disturbing.
De-stressing techniques like relaxation, yoga, pranayama and meditation can be helpful
What is the difference between PCOD and PCOS?
Both PCOD and PCOS are the same. The two terms are used interchangeably.
Can you be thin and have PCOS?
Yes. Girls who are lean and with normal weight can also develop PCOS.
What is anovulatory cycle? Can it happen in PCOS? Can you ovulate Without periods?
Anovulatory cycle means cycles with varying menstrual interval and absence of ovulation (failure of release of egg from follicle).
Anovulatory cycles happen in the initial few months after beginning of first menstrual cycles.
PCOS girls can also have anovulatory cycles and this can lead into infertility.
It is very uncommon to have ovulation without periods.
What is the best exercise for PCOS?
At least 1 hour of exercise daily is a must.
Activities like jogging, cycling, skipping, swimming, outdoor sports or walking are best.
A minimum of 10,000 steps /day is advised when walking.
Also read 10 Reasons why your child needs sports
Can PCOS turn into cancer?
Research show that there is a small risk of developing endometrial (endometrium is inner lining of uterus) cancer in women who have PCOS
Does PCOS make periods more painful?
No. PCOS does not make periods more painful.
How can PCOS affect a teen?
PCOS can cause the following in teenagers
- PCOS can make teens overweight
Overweight/obesity is defined in children and adolescent (<18 years )based on BMI percentile plotted in BMI chart (Indian Academy of Pediatric charts) similar to growth charts. overweight is between 85-95th centile and obese is > 95th centile.
- PCOS can cause severe acne
persistent acne which is not getting better with treatment.
- PCOS can cause irregular periods
In this case irregular would mean that the gap between her periods is shorter than 20 days or greater than 45 days.
Do you have an experience with managing PCOS in your teenager – that you would like to share? Comment below and join #ParentsShare