Adolescence brings with it a host of changes for your daughter, both physically and emotionally. If you have Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) or have family members with this condition, you may have some concerns that your daughter may also have PCOS. In general, PCOS in teens is more common than you may think. Between 3 and 26% of teenage girls have PCOS. Also, studies suggest that 24% of women with PCOS have a mother with PCOS.
As a parent, you may be wondering how you can proactively help your daughter. Maybe she is already experiencing some symptoms that are making you question if she may have PCOS. Unfortunately identifying PCOS during adolescence can be particularly difficult. Many characteristics of normal puberty are very similar to signs and symptoms of PCOS.
This article will provide you with information on the diagnosis and symptoms of PCOS in teens. We’ll also review valuable resources for you and your daughter – if she does have PCOS.
Diagnosing PCOS in Teens
PCOS is one of the most common endocrine disorders in adult women. However, new research suggests that PCOS starts much earlier than adulthood. In fact, it may actually begin to manifest in teens, children, and even in utero, before birth.
Physicians generally diagnose PCOS according to what is known as the “Rotterdam criteria.” These criteria require two out of the following three: high androgen (testosterone) levels, abnormal or absent menstrual cycles, and multiple cysts on the ovaries. Some individuals diagnosed with the condition do not have any ovarian cysts, making “polycystic ovary syndrome” somewhat of a misnomer.
In adolescents, PCOS is generally characterized by high androgen levels along with irregular menstrual cycles that persist for two years or more.
Symptoms of PCOS in Teenage Girls
In addition to irregular periods, some common symptoms include extra hair on the face or other areas, acne, weight gain, and patches of dark skin. Up to 70% of those with PCOS have insulin resistance, which brings with it a higher risk of diabetes and other chronic conditions. For these and other reasons, a healthy diet and lifestyle are very important in the management of PCOS in teens.
When to Seek Help
For teenage girls, many of the symptoms of PCOS can be distressing. It is important to take your daughter or loved one’s concerns seriously and assure her that she is not alone. If an adolescent girl has two or more of the symptoms associated with PCOS, she should make an appointment with a primary care physician or adolescent gynecologist for further evaluation.
You may want to prepare your daughter for her appointment with the doctor by encouraging her to write down the questions she has. Also, let her know that she will have to answer lots of questions about her period. It may be helpful for her to jot down some facts about her monthly cycle such as time between periods, length of bleeding and cramps, and any mood swings she experiences leading up to and during her menstrual cycle.
In addition, she will likely need to have her blood drawn to assess hormone, glucose (blood sugar) and cholesterol levels. So, if she’s wary of needles it’s important to explain the importance of these tests.
Managing the Symptoms of PCOS
Although there is no cure yet for PCOS, there are several ways to help your daughter manage her symptoms.
Exercise is one of the best things that anyone with PCOS can do for themselves. Research shows that exercise can help to reduce insulin resistance and inflammation associated with PCOS. Experts suggest that it is best to combine both cardiovascular exercise and muscle-strength training exercise. However, any exercise is better than no exercise.
The ultimate goal is 30 minutes of moderate activity on most days of the week. If your daughter is involved in sports at school, that’s great. Encourage that. If she is not, try to incorporate some mother/daughter time and go for a walk together after dinner. Consider joining an exercise class together at the local community center, or put on some music and get silly dancing around the kitchen!
Eat a Healthful Diet
A healthful diet filled with vegetables, whole grains, fruits, lean protein, and healthful fats goes a long way in helping too. Take inventory of your kitchen cupboards and consider replacing some of those simple carbohydrates such as cookies, potato chips, juice, candy, white bread and white rice with healthier options.
Choose whole-grain breads, colorful vegetables, whole fruits, brown rice or even try quinoa to change things up. Also, include sources of protein and fat at meals and snacks. Some examples include fish or poultry with a vegetable and whole grain for dinner, nuts, and seeds with Greek yogurt and fruit for breakfast, and hummus and raw vegetables for a snack.
Consider Certain Nutritional Supplements
In addition to eating a healthful diet and moving, there is research to suggest that certain nutritional supplements may also be helpful. Studies suggest that omega-3 fish oils and vitamin D may be helpful for women with PCOS.
Also, if your daughter is prescribed the insulin-sensitizer medication metformin, she may want to take supplemental vitamin B12. Research shows that long-term use of metformin can decrease levels of vitamin B12 in the body.
One nutrient that has proved especially helpful in the management of PCOS is inositol. It helps increase insulin sensitivity which in turn can help to promote menstrual regularity and normal ovarian function.
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