For young women, irregular menstrual cycles may seem normal, but they could be an indicator of an underlying disorder: polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). PCOS is characterized by an excess of androgen or male hormones in the female body. The imbalance interferes with the normal growth and release of eggs from the ovaries. This can disturb regular ovulation and menstruation.
Regular cycles should be experienced by age 17
On average, menstruation begins around age 12. A normal cycle is approximately 28 days. Girls should have a regular menstrual cycle established within two years of their first period or by age 17. “PCOS can be overlooked because irregular periods are normal in teens,” noted Suzanne Kavic, MD, division director, Reproductive Endocrinology, Loyola University Health System (LUHS). “However, if erratic menstrual cycles persist later into the teen years, girls should see a specialist to determine if something else might be causing this issue.”
Variety of symptoms, many distressing for young women
Aside from irregular periods, other symptoms include weight gain, hair growth on the body and face, thinning of the hair on the head, acne and infertility. Women with the hormone disorder are at higher risk for high blood pressure, high cholesterol and endometrial cancer. They are also at greater risk for diabetes since they can become resistant to insulin.
Early treatment can help
“Symptoms associated with this syndrome can be concerning to young girls particularly during the teen years, which is already a stressful time,” Dr. Kavic agreed. “The good news is we can identify PCOS at an early age and being managing symptoms to alleviate some of the anxiety for these girls.” Treatment for PCOS includes exercise, diet modifications and medication including birth control pills. Exercise is also an important component to controlling the disease by regulating hormone and blood sugar levels.
Source: ScienceDaily, Loyola University Health System.