By: Dr. Rosheen Grady
At first, Karen wasn’t worried that her daughter Brianna’s periods did not come regularly. After all, it had taken a while for her own menstrual cycles to become regular. Plus, Brianna’s pediatrician had reassured her that it can take a while for menstrual cycles to be regular, sometimes even years. But then Brianna’s periods stopped for six months. When they came back, they were extremely heavy. Karen was frequently being called by the school to bring a change of clothing for Brianna to make it through the rest of the school day.
Karen also noticed that Brianna was starting to gain weight, despite remaining active. Briana gained 50 pounds over two years. She also started to get hair on her upper lip and chin, a “dirty neck”, and dark patches on her skin that never went away. Karen knew in her gut that “something just wasn’t right”. Karen called Brianna’s doctor who informed her that she would like to run tests for a condition called polycystic ovary syndrome, or PCOS.
What is Polycystic Ovary Syndrome?
PCOS affects almost 1 in 10 teen girls and young women. It is caused by an imbalance in hormones, which are chemicals made by the body that act like messengers that tell body parts how to work properly.
What are signs of PCOS?
PCOS occurs differently from person to person. Some young women may only have one or two symptoms, and some may have more. Some of the most common signs of PCOS include:
- Irregular periods, that may come every few months, not at all or very frequently
- Unwanted hair on face or other body parts, due to high levels of certain hormones
- Weight gain or trouble losing weight
- Patches of dark skin on the back of neck or elbows
- Pre-diabetes or diabetes
- Cysts (fluid filled sacs) on the ovary, which are not harmful
What causes PCOS?
No one really knows for sure why some young women get PCOS.
We do know that in girls with PCOS, the ovaries do not get the right hormone signals from the brain. Without these signals, an egg is not made every month. This is what causes missed periods, irregular, frequent or heavy periods.
Is there a test for PCOS?
There is no test for PCOS. Helping your daughter keep a diary of when her periods happen will be most helpful to her doctor. Your daughter’s health care provider may order blood tests to check her hormone levels, blood sugar, and cholesterol. The doctor may also order an ultrasound, a study that uses sound waves to get a picture of your daughter’s internal female organs.
Will this affect my daughter’s chances of having children in the future?
Some women with PCOS have no trouble having children. Some may have difficulty. There are medicines to help women with PCOS if and when wants to have a child.
Are there treatments for PCOS?
Healthy eating and weight loss, for girls who are over-weight, can be very helpful. This should be done with a doctor’s help. Menstrual (period) problems are commonly treated with hormones to correct hormone level imbalances. Hormonal pills, which can also be used for birth control, are often used even if a young woman is not sexually active. Pills improve acne and excess hair growth.
How can I support my daughter who has PCOS?
PCOS can be a confusing and difficult diagnosis for a teen to receive. Your daughter may feel frustrated or sad if they are having a hard time with acne, excess body hair or gaining weight. Menstrual irregularities may be difficult to cope with. It is essential that your daughter feel that she is not alone. You might find support from your daughter’s doctor. Some young women find that talking to a therapist or counselor is helpful while they are adjusting to their diagnosis or struggling to make lifestyle changes.
If you are concerned that your daughter may have PCOS, make an appointment with her primary care provider.
- Young Women’s Health –http://youngwomenshealth.org. This website is produced by Boston Children’s Hospital and has information that speaks to teens directly. They also have a moderated chat that young women can enroll in for support and have additional information for parents. They also produce a wonderful and comprehensive booklet that you and your teen might find helpful:
- PCOS Teen Resource Booklet – http://youngwomenshealth.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/PCOS-Resources-for-a-Healthier-You.pdf
- The Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome Association is a nonprofit organization run by young women who have PCOS. The website pcosupport.org provides information and has a discussion forum dedicated for teens with PCOS.