Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) and early menopause are two very different conditions, despite the fact that they share many symptoms. If you are experiencing symptoms associated with these conditions, such as irregular periods, it is important to visit your doctor to receive a proper diagnosis. The treatments are different, so knowing which condition you are dealing with is key.
The Facts: PCOS vs. Early Menopause
PCOS is associated with elevated levels of testosterone and affects approximately 10 per cent of women in their child bearing years. Most women with PCOS do have actual cysts on their ovaries, but not every woman with ovarian cysts develops PCOS symptoms.
Early menopause is menopause that begins before the age of 45. Note that there is a difference between early menopause and premature menopause. Premature menopause is menopause that begins before the age of 40.
PCOS Symptoms and Diagnosis
Women with PCOS experience irregular periods, obesity, skin problems including acne and patchy skin, and excess hair growth, especially facial-hair growth. In the long term, women with PCOS may have problems with insulin resistance, diabetes, high levels of lipids in the blood and heart disease. Infertility is also a problem.
PCOS diagnosis is done by taking a medical history, evaluating symptoms, and eliminating other conditions that could be causing similar problems, such as thyroid disease.
Early Menopause Symptoms and Diagnosis
Symptoms associated with early menopause include irregular periods, hot flushes, joint pain, sleep disruption and mood swings. Some women also experience weight gain, especially around their midsections.
Early menopause is often caused by something specific, such as hysterectomy, or illness, so the menopause is predictable and easy to spot. In other cases, early menopause is diagnosed through symptom evaluation and blood tests to determine FSH (follicle-stimulating hormone) levels.
There is no one treatment that is used for PCOS. If you are overweight, losing weight can help mitigate some of the symptoms, although doctors are unsure why. Birth control pills are used to increase oestrogen levels. A medication for type 2 diabetes, Metformin, has shown promise is in reducing the elevated levels of testosterone associated with PCOS. Again, doctors are unsure why Metformin helps. Not all women can tolerate Metformin, which can cause severe nausea. If appropriate, infertility treatments such as Clomid are also used.
Early Menopause Treatment
Menopause cannot be reversed, but symptoms can be managed. Hormone replacement therapy, or HRT, can help hormones level off, but this treatment is not for everyone. HRT may increase the risk of certain cancers, so your doctor will work with your to decide if the benefits outweigh the risks based on your medical history. Healthy eating, exercise, getting enough sleep and seeking support from family and friends can also help you cope with the changes.