PCOS -- A Complicated Disorder

Some of the newer research suggests that girls who begin to develop pubic hair early (usually before the age of 8), a condition known as premature pubarche, have many of the signs and symptoms of PCOS. These girls have both elevated insulin levels and elevated levels of DHEAS, a weak androgen. An elevated level of DHEAS is normally one of the first biochemical signs of awakening of the reproductive glands -- in this case, the adrenal gland -- after the long period of childhood inactivity. Throughout the rest of puberty, these girls produce excess testosterone and develop irregular periods consistent with PCOS. Thus, premature pubarche may be an early form of PCOS.

Women of Reproductive Age
Generally, a woman with PCOS will begin to experience menstrual irregularities within three to four years after her first period. After menstruation starts, a woman may have a few years of normal cycles until the symptoms of PCOS become evident. In some cases, women continue into their early 20s with normal cycles or no apparent PCOS symptoms before the symptoms begin.

Most women are diagnosed with PCOS during their 20s or 30s, although the reproductive years typically refer to the years between the late teens and the mid-40s. It is during this time that many women are trying to conceive. In fact, many women are not diagnosed until they seek medical treatment after being unable to get pregnant. Because PCOS is often diagnosed only after a woman has trouble conceiving, those women who are not trying to become pregnant often are not diagnosed. But PCOS is much more than a fertility issue. Women who for a variety of reasons are not currently trying to become pregnant will still benefit from treatment.

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