PCOS and menopause have some complicated links. Read on to find out what we know (and what we don’t) about the connection.
Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) can come with some uncomfortable symptoms that may affect your day-to-day life.
So can menopause.
They also both have strong ties to the hormones in your body.
So what’s the link between PCOS and menopause?
And how can you tell what’s at the source of your symptoms?
We’ll take you through the details.
But before we dive in, know that if you are in pain or discomfort, it’s important to talk to your doctor so that you can get the treatment you need.
You don’t have to struggle through your symptoms alone.
In this article: 📝
- How to tell the difference between menopause and PCOS
- What happens with PCOS in menopause?
- Does PCOS get worse as you get older?
- Why does PCOS delay menopause?
- Does PCOS make menopause worse?
How to tell the difference between menopause and PCOS
First up, PCOS is a medical condition, whereas menopause is a normal phase of life.
In both cases, hormone levels play a big part.
Here’s what to know about each.
Menopause is defined as 12 months after you have your last period.
You’ll typically experience this sometime in your late-40s or early-50s.
But it can affect your life on either side of that spectrum.
The time leading up to menopause — called perimenopause — is notorious for the symptoms that often accompany this phase of life.
The most famous are hot flashes, night sweats, vaginal dryness, and mood swings.
While we’re still figuring out exactly how these symptoms are related to the menopause transition, we do know that hormones play an important role.
Our sex hormones — most notably estrogen and progesterone — go through some highs and lows before their levels finally drop.
And this can lead to all sorts of aches, pains, instabilities, and discomforts.
As the name suggests, PCOS is a condition that impacts the working of your ovaries.
It’s common, affecting as many as 15% of women in their fertile years.
PCOS affects your body’s ability to ovulate regularly, which in turn has a bearing on your periods.
For some people, PCOS causes their periods to come less frequently. For others, they may last for a longer time.
And for others, there may be bleeding between periods.
Because PCOS can affect your chances of getting pregnant, it can be particularly stressful for those who are TTC.
(Nobody has to struggle through this alone. There’s a whole Peanut community that’s there for you.)
We don’t precisely know what causes PCOS.
But we do know that it happens when there’s an excess of androgens in your body.
These are a group of hormones we all produce, but males make more of them.
Testosterone is the best-known androgen.
An imbalance of these androgens in a female body can get in the way of ovulation.
You may be more at risk of developing PCOS if it runs in your family.
Your chances might also be higher if your body has trouble processing insulin, the hormone that helps your body convert sugar into energy and store it effectively.
That’s because insulin problems can affect your androgen levels.
So what puts the “cystic” in PCOS?
For some women with PCOS, small fluid-filled sacs (called cysts) form in the ovaries.
But this isn’t the case for everyone with the condition.
Some women with PCOS don’t get cysts.
And some women who don’t have PCOS get cysts.
The other symptoms of PCOS include:
- Irregular periods
- Hirsutism, which is the growth of dark, course facial and body hair
- Receding hairline
- Weight gain, often around the belly
- Trouble getting pregnant
- Skin tags, which are small growths in folds of your skin, often on the neck, in the armpits, or in the groin area
Generally, symptoms of PCOS will start when your periods begin at puberty.
So if you’re experiencing an onset of symptoms later in your life, it’s possible something else is causing them.
And yes, menopause is certainly a possibility.
Because our bodies are all different, it’s really important to touch base with a healthcare professional to get the help you need.
What happens with PCOS in menopause?
Getting a PCOS diagnosis after menopause is tricky.
Once your periods stop and the hormone levels in your body change, the key features of PCOS become difficult to identify.
But what we are realizing is that if you do have PCOS in your reproductive years, how it manifests in your body may change with age.
Does PCOS get worse as you get older?
On the one hand, menopause may bring uncomfortable symptoms like irregular periods to an end.
But it may not mean that all PCOS symptoms disappear.
Your androgen levels might remain high, meaning the associated symptoms stick around after menopause.
And the combination of age and PCOS may also mean that some new risks emerge.
As this recent review explains, PCOS can change from a condition that affects your reproductive system to one that affects your metabolism.
That means it can get in the way of your body’s ability to process insulin and convert food into energy.
It also puts you at greater risk for developing heart disease and Type 2 diabetes.
Why does PCOS delay menopause?
Women with PCOS tend to hit menopause about four years later than others. And while we don’t know with 100% certainty, it appears that, once again, hormones are at work here.
One of the big players is something called the Anti-Müllerian hormone (AMH), which is produced in your ovaries.
If you’ve undergone fertility tests, you may have met this hormone before.
Testing AMH levels helps us determine the number of ovarian follicles that have the potential to release an egg during ovulation.
So what does this hormone have to do with PCOS and menopause?
Well, high levels of AMH can be an indicator of PCOS.
They also appear to be a pretty reliable indicator of the timing of menopause.
So higher levels of AMH due to PCOS and the later onset of menopause could be linked.
Does PCOS make menopause worse?
We don’t yet know the exact relationship between common menopause symptoms and PCOS.
Recently, researchers have been looking into%20in%20midlife) whether PCOS has any bearing on the experience of hot flashes.
Their findings show that PCOS doesn’t seem to make hot flashes worse — but they do state that more research is needed in this area.
The bottom line?
Navigate this chapter with the help of your doctor.
That way, they can monitor you for the risks that come with PCOS as we age and help treat any symptoms you might be having.
And if you need support along the way, the Peanut Menopause community is here to help.
While we all have our own unique set of challenges, there’s a lot that we share.
And doing this thing together can make a huge difference.