Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) is a disease that causes many problems for women suffering from it, including potential fertility issues. A common side effect is excessive body hair, but it can also cause hair loss in women. While PCOS Awareness Month may be over, it’s never too late to learn more about this stressful condition.
What is PCOS?
Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) is a hormonal condition affecting women between the ages of 15 and 44. According to the Office of Women’s Health, 1 in 10 women deal with this condition. One study found that up to 70 percent of women affected by PCOS didn’t realize they had it. That doesn’t mean they didn’t have symptoms. Rather, the symptoms were attributed to other things or doctors didn’t take the complaints of these women as seriously as they should have.
For people with PCOS, cysts form in the ovaries with each cyst containing an immature egg. Normally eggs mature in the ovaries and then are released during ovulation. For those with PCOS, the egg never matures and triggers ovulation. That, in turn, changes the levels of hormones in the body, leading to lower than normal levels of estrogen, progesterone, FSH and LH and higher than normal levels of androgen.
The human body produces both male associated and female associated hormones regardless of one’s physical gender. The proportions are just different. The increase of androgen hormones decreases the number of periods the woman gets and when they do have their period, it’s much heavier and lasts longer. It can also cause headaches, weight gain, oily skin, and acne. Additionally, those with PCOS are more prone to endometrial cancer and depression
Up to 80 percent of those suffering from PCOS are obese or overweight. That, in turn, can increase the risk for high blood pressure, low HDL cholesterol (the “good” kinds), high blood sugar and high LDL cholesterol (the “bad” kind). Even worse, these factors can combine into metabolic syndrome, which increases the risk of stroke, heart disease, and diabetes. Sleep apnea is also more common in overweight women with PCOS than those without – 5-10 times greater.
PCOS and Hair Loss
Another common side effect of PCOS is hirsutism or excessive facial and body hair. It’s caused by the increase in androgen hormones in the body of the person with PCOS. However, it can also, ironically, lead to hair loss.
Women naturally produce androgens, though in smaller amounts than men, and that stimulates hair growth under the arms and in the pubic area. The excessive amount of androgen from PCOS increases hair on the face, neck, chest, abdomen, and back. But it can also trigger androgenic alopecia, also known as female pattern hair loss.
Androgens can also trigger androgenic alopecia in men, though then it’s referred to as male pattern hair loss. In the case of PCOS-triggered androgenic alopecia, as opposed to normal female pattern hair loss, is that the hair follicle stays alive when triggered by PCOS. That means hormonal treatments can sometimes correct the hair loss for women with PCOS.
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