Is It PCOS or Just Getting Older?
Polycystic ovary syndrome is a condition that affects nearly 5 million women. Because it affects so many parts of the body, it can be a particularly difficult diagnosis to live with and even harder to diagnose. Many of the main PCOS symptoms can also seem like the natural progression of aging, but here are some common issues that may point to more than just getting older.
Increased Body Hair
As you get older, it's common to see an increase in body hair, especially in places you didn't have it before. Your legs, arms, and bikini line may all start sprouting darker, thicker hair, and you may notice you have to shave more often. However, new and excess body hair — medically referred to as hirsutism — in women can also indicate PCOS, particularly if the hair is appearing on areas such as the face, neck, chest, and back. This is due to disruptions in hormone levels. While there's no need to panic if you find yourself needing to wax your upper lip in your 30s, it's something to mention at your next OBGYN appointment, especially if you have other symptoms.
Having irregular periods is one of the primary signs of PCOS and skipping three in a row is one of the main diagnostic criteria. However, many women without PCOS also have the occasional skipped period, and this becomes more common as your get into your 40s because you're approaching menopause. If you're missing periods, having heavier or lighter periods than usual, or midcycle bleeding, it's worth it to go in to your doctor for a blood test to check your hormone levels, which will let you know if your body is starting menopause.
It's no secret that your metabolism slows as you get older, and this can lead to substantial weight gain over the years even if your overall diet and activity level stay relatively the same. If you're finding that the scale keeps going up even after watching your processed food, sugar, and salt intake and making a concerted effort to move more, it could be something more than your metabolism. Stubborn weight gain is very common with PCOS because of the disrupted hormone levels.
Difficulty Getting Pregnant
Studies have shown that female fertility may start to decline as early as the late 20s, and millions of women in their 30s and 40s struggle with infertility. Unfortunately, it's when these couples go to the doctor to try to figure out what might be wrong that many women first learn of their PCOS diagnosis. They may have had signs — such as irregular bleeding — since puberty but just thought that was their “normal.”
While the normal aging process and PCOS can look surprisingly similar for women, it's important not to let these symptoms go unchecked, particularly if they are causing you problems or interfering with your quality of life. Your doctor will be able to order tests, such as lab work and an ultrasound of your ovaries, to confirm or rule out PCOS as the cause.