Having a few bouts of bad breakouts or a spotty menstrual cycle shouldn’t arouse concern, but experience three or more of the above symptoms consistently and that’s when you should see your doctor, says Dr. Downie. She notes that patients coming in with acne or thinning hair alone are common practice. An estimated 40-50 million Americans suffer from acne at some point in their lives, and about 30 million American women experience hair loss, according to the American Academy of Dermatology.
Possible health concern: Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a condition that may cause cysts to grow in the ovaries and stimulates an excess production of androgen, a predominately male hormone, explains R. Jeffrey Chang, M.D., director of reproductive endocrinology and infertility at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine, in La Jolla, California. “Although the cause of PCOS remains unknown, it’s believed to be an inherited disorder,” he says.
It’s this boost in androgen levels that can cause the slew of not-so-pretty symptoms mentioned above—including a rise in sebum and oil production. The surge also leads to acne and increase in hair growth in androgen sensitive areas (essentially where men, not women, typically have a lot of hair). If your doctor suspects PCOS, a blood test can confirm abnormal hormone levels, however, it’s not a surefire method since it’s possible that results come back normal. “It happens a lot that patients show clear visible signs of hormonal imbalances, yet their hormonal levels don’t read that way,” says Dr. Day. In these cases you might have hormonal hypersensitivities and your doctor might treat the physical symptoms accordingly.
Along with a visit to a dermatologist, it’s important to make an appointment with your gynecologist to get an ultrasound, which uses high frequency sound waves to produce a clear image of the ovaries, allowing doctors to locate cysts. If you are diagnosed with PCOS, your doctor may suggest an oral contraceptive as well as oral Spironolactone, originally designed as a diuretic, both of which have proven anti-PCOS powers.
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