If you’re one of the 10% of women with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), you have a higher risk of facing infertility and developing chronic conditions that can pose a threat to your health, such as obesity, Type 2 diabetes, and high blood pressure.

Polycystic ovarian syndrome is a condition in which a woman’s ovaries produce high amounts of androgens, or male hormones. The name is derived from the fact that the condition often causes many small cysts to form in the ovaries.

However, these cysts seldom cause symptoms. Ovarian cysts may grow large enough to cause pelvic pain, but cyst-related pain isn’t generally an early warning sign of PCOS. That’s why medical professionals often look for other symptoms, such as the ones listed in this blog, to determine the presence of PCOS.

At her practice in Newport Beach, California, Fangyin Meng, MD, PhD, has years of experience helping women overcome the complex problems associated with PCOS. Seeking her help as early as possible can give you a better chance of preventing long-term health challenges. Since the only way to get early treatment is to recognize the problem early, Dr. Meng created this list of early warning signs.

Changes in your menstrual periods

Polycystic ovarian syndrome is defined by unusually high levels androgens, which are male hormones. Women normally produce a small amount of these hormones. If your levels get too high, androgens can cause problems with your ovaries.

Excessive androgens can interfere with egg maturation. If your eggs don’t mature, you don’t ovulate or release an egg during your monthly cycle.

Ovulation problems can lead to changes in your menstrual periods. You may have infrequent, irregular, or longer periods than normal. If you stop ovulating, you also stop having periods.

Though having an abnormal menstrual cycle is one of the most common signs of PCOS, it can be hard to recognize in young women. Polycystic ovarian syndrome often begins shortly after adolescents begin menstruating.

It’s normal for menstrual periods to be irregular for the first few years, which means you may not associate it with PCOS.

Physical signs of excessive androgens

An overload of androgens affects a woman’s body in three very noticeable ways. You may experience one or all of the following:

Hair loss

Hair loss commonly occurs in women with high androgen levels. You may notice thinning over your entire head or develop male-pattern balding, such as a receding hairline or hair loss on the crown of your head.


Hirsutism affects 70% of women with PCOS. With hirsutism, dark, coarse hair grows in places where women don’t normally develop body hair. The hair growth can appear on your face, chest, lower abdomen, back, and inner thighs.


There’s a good chance you have PCOS if you develop acne as an adult, especially if the acne doesn’t clear up with treatment. Adolescents with acne that’s severe or doesn’t improve with medical treatment have a 40% likelihood of having PCOS.


The ovulation problems caused by PCOS are one of the top causes of infertility. If you haven’t noticed other signs of PCOS, you should schedule an infertility evaluation after 6-12 months of trying to get pregnant.

Dark patches of skin and skin tags

You may notice a dark area of velvety skin in body folds, such as your neck, armpit, or groin. This skin condition, called acanthosis nigricans, is a sign of two hormone problems: insulin resistance and high androgens.

Insulin resistance occurs when your body can’t use insulin properly. Without treatment, this condition leads to Type 2 diabetes. Your PCOS may also be associated with insulin resistance, as it can contribute to the rise in androgens.

Acanthosis nigricans often appears together with skin tags. On their own, these small flaps of skin are harmless, but they can also be a sign of PCOS.

Weight gain

Gaining weight and having a hard time losing weight are closely related to PCOS. The hormonal changes that cause PCOS can lead to weight gain and obesity.

At the same time, women who are overweight are more likely to develop PCOS. Furthermore, insulin resistance often has a significant role in both, whether PCOS or weight gain comes first.

If you recognize any signs of PCOS, don’t wait to seek treatment. Dr. Meng can give you a thorough evaluation and put you on the path to better health. To learn more, book an appointment online or over the phone with Fangyin Meng, MD, PhD, today.

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