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Puberty Woes or PCOS: Know the Signs

By Jamell Andrews

As a parent of an adolescent daughter, it’s easy to brush off acne and irregular periods as normal parts of puberty. While missed or heavy periods and acne are certainly common at this stage of a girl’s life, they can also be signs of a condition called Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS).

What is PCOS

PCOS is a common disorder affecting 1 in 10 to 1 in 20 women of reproductive age. It can affect girls as young as 11 years of age. It can interfere with a woman’s menstrual cycle and increase the risk of several health issues later in life. Though doctors don’t know the exact cause of PCOS, it appears to be related to an imbalance in a woman’s hormones. In some cases, the hormonal imbalances can cause small cysts, or poly cysts, to surround the ovaries.

Along with affecting the menstrual cycle, it can also affect a woman’s appearance, her ability to have children, and more.

Recognizing the Signs

As a parent, you may be able to recognize the signs of PCOS in your daughter before she does. Knowing the signs can help you distinguish the difference between common puberty woes and PCOS.

Common signs and symptoms of PCOS may include:

  • Irregular or missed periods
  • Heavy periods
  • Acne and clogged pores
  • Weight gain, especially around the waist
  • Excess body hair on the face, neck, chest, abdomen, and around the nipples (hirsutism)
  • Dark, thickened patches of skin under the armpits, neck, or breasts (acanthosis nigricans)
  • Thinning hair on the head (alopecia)
  • Cravings for carbohydrates

PCOS can also cause other health issues, including:

  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Insulin resistance
  • Type 2 diabetes

If your daughter complains about heavy or irregular periods or you notice any of the other signs and symptoms, make an appointment to see the doctor. Along with a physical exam to note important information like weight and blood pressure, the doctor may also run the following tests:

  • Pelvic exam. The doctor will manually inspect the reproductive organs to check for abnormalities such as masses.
  • Blood tests. This allows the doctor to check hormone levels, such as elevated androgen levels that can cause many of the physical signs of PCOS. Blood tests can also check cholesterol and triglycerides, as well as glucose levels.
  • Ultrasound. This provides a view of the ovaries and uterus to check for cysts, thickening of the uterine lining, and other possible causes of symptoms.

Treating PCOS

Though there is no cure for PCOS, there are things that can be done to help manage the symptoms of PCOS. Studies have found that PCOS symptoms in adolescents can be treated using diet and exercise. There are also medications available to improve insulin sensitivity and birth control pills can be used to regulate periods, restore hormone levels, and improve acne hirsutism. The doctor will determine the best treatments based on your daughter’s symptoms.

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