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Is it PCOS or something else? A gynae talks about other ailments with similar symptoms

Updated on:21 September 2020, 18:56pm IST
A common hormonal disorder, PCOS can wreak havoc in women’s lives. But it can also be misdiagnosed, given that its fairly common symptoms.
Dr Vaishali Joshi
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reverse PCOS
Symptoms like acne, weight gain, and missed periods can also be seen in other diseases. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) has been one of the commonest hormonal problems in women in recent times. Data shows that at least three out of 10 women are diagnosed with it, and the alarming fact is that six out of 10 diagnosed women with PCOS are teenagers!

PCOS is a lifestyle disease and develops due to urbanisation, lack of exercise and consumption of high-calorie fast food. It has a cluster of symptoms like irregular periods, scanty menstrual flow, acne, excess body hair, weight gain, and darkening of skin along with polycystic bulky ovaries (PCOD) on sonography. It also presents as hormonal imbalance including high insulin resistance and excess of male hormones.

PCOS and PCOD
PCOS is a common reproductive disorder, with symptoms that can also be seen in other ailments. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

That said, PCOS is a diagnosis of exclusion. It means that the health issues related to PCOS—like period problems, excess body hair, darkening of the skin, and even weight gain can happen due to other health ailments. Acne which is one of the common symptoms can be due to a skin infection and not necessarily due to a hormonal problem.

Here are a few diseases with symptoms similar to PCOS that one must be wary of to get a proper diagnosis:

1. Hyperprolactinaemia
The excess of prolactin hormone in the body is called hyperprolactinaemia. Prolactin is released by a small gland, called the pituitary, in the brain. It affects the periodicity of the menstrual cycle and the amount of blood flow during periods. The skipping of periods or scanty flow or discharge through nipples can be a presenting complaint in hyperprolactinaemia.

It can be due to stress, medications, thyroid problems, breastfeeding, or rarely due to swelling or tumours of the pituitary gland. The occurrence of this can be three to 17% of patients with irregular periods. This ailment can be easily cured by medications.

2. Thyroid disorders
Thyroid disorders are very common in our country. The thyroid hormone can affect our menstrual flow and weight gain. It’s important to identify the type of thyroid dysfunction—overactive or hyper-thyroid or underactive or hypo-thyroid—and treat accordingly. This simple measure will correct the period problems.

World Thyroid Day
Thyroid symptoms can be easy to mistake for PCOS. Image Courtesy: Shutterstock

3. Certain endocrine disorders
Although this happens very rarely, certain endocrine disorders like Cushing’s syndrome, congenital adrenal hyperplasia, or male hormone-secreting tumours can be a reason for excess body hair, darkening of skin, weight gain, period irregularity, and hoarseness of voice.

Please remember…
Since PCOS is closely related to an imbalance of sex hormones, it can develop anytime during our reproductive life span, i.e. from adolescence till menopause. Unfortunately, there is no “jadu ki jhhappi” cure for it and its sequelae on general physical health can last forever.

The positive way to look at this problem is it’s not a terminal or dreadful ailment like cancer. It may be a wake-up call your body is putting out for you to clean up your act and start concentrating on holistic and physical health.

Dr Vaishali Joshi Dr Vaishali Joshi

Dr Vaishali Joshi is a senior obstetrician and gynaecologist at Kokilaben Ambani Hospital, Mumbai.