Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), also referred to as a polycystic ovarian syndrome, is a health issue that’s caused by a hormonal imbalance. PCOS is common, affecting between five percent and 10 percent of women between the ages of 15 and forty-four.
It can cause various symptoms, including noticeable hair loss and thinning that affects your scalp and hairline. Below, we’ve explained what PCOS is in more detail, as well as the effects it may have on your hair. We’ve also provided more information about other symptoms you may experience if you’re one of the millions of women affected by polycystic ovary syndrome.
Finally, we’ve explained what you can do to treat and manage your PCOS symptoms, including options for treating hair loss and regrowing hair in affected areas of your scalp.
What Is Polycystic Ovary Syndrome?
Polycystic ovary syndrome, or PCOS, is a common health problem caused by a hormonal imbalance. If you have PCOS, your ovaries may produce an abnormally high amount of male sex hormones called androgens. These hormones can affect your reproductive health and cause a wide range of different symptoms.
Likewise, PCOS is also correlated to higher insulin levels, which means that if type 2 diabetes runs in your family, you may be at an elevated risk of having PCOS. A common symptom of polycystic ovary syndrome is missed or irregular periods. This can affect your fertility.
Some women with PCOS cannot become pregnant due to the effects of this syndrome on their menstrual cycle. PCOS can also cause other symptoms, ranging from acne to excess body hair, changes in body composition, and several skin issues. Currently, experts aren’t aware of precisely what causes polycystic ovary syndrome.
Research suggests that it may be related to insulin resistance, obesity, and genetic factors inherited from your parents or other family members.
Does PCOS Cause Hair Loss?
Hair loss is a known symptom of polycystic ovary syndrome. If you have PCOS, you may notice the classic signs of pattern hair loss, such as noticeable hair thinning that develops near the line where you part your hair.
Similar to the pattern of baldness that affects men, hair loss from polycystic ovary syndrome results from excessive levels of certain androgen hormones. Androgens are sex hormones responsible for male traits. The principal androgen hormones are testosterone and androstenedione.
If you have polycystic ovary syndrome, your testosterone levels may exceed the normal range for women. Now, what does this have to do with hair loss? Androgens such as testosterone have numerous effects on your body, including the ability to cause something called virilization.
Virilization refers to developing masculine characteristics, such as body hair or a deeper voice. One known sign of virilization is the development of pattern hair loss. As we’ve covered in our guide to female hair loss, your body converts a small percentage of its testosterone into a more powerful androgen hormone called dihydrotestosterone, or DHT.
Over time, the DHT your body produces can bind to and miniaturize your hair follicles, stopping them from producing new hairs and leading to noticeable hair loss. In women, this is referred to as female pattern hair loss. If you’re prone to this type of hair loss as a result of PCOS, you may notice the following symptoms:
- Gradual loss of hair and visible thinning around your part line
- Diffuse thinning of hair that spreads from the top of your scalp
- Unlike male pattern baldness, it’s uncommon for female hair loss to cause complete baldness or a receding hairline.
- Any hair you lose due to polycystic ovary syndrome won’t grow back on its own, making it important to seek treatment if you notice this symptom developing.
The Common PCOS Symptoms
Polycystic ovary syndrome can cause a large range of symptoms. In addition to hair loss, other common symptoms of PCOS include:
- Excess body hair growth, usually in a male-like pattern (hirsutism)
- Weight gain around your abdomen
- Irregular, very light, or missed periods
- Oily skin and frequent acne breakouts
- Difficulty becoming pregnant, or infertility
- During pregnancy, a higher risk of miscarriage or complications.
- Large ovaries and the development of cysts on the ovaries
- Darkening of your skin around your neck, groin, and under your breasts
- Skin tags that affect your neck and armpits
Polycystic ovary syndrome may also increase your risk of developing other health issues. If you have PCOS, you may risk developing high cholesterol, endometrial cancer, sleep apnea, hypertension (high blood pressure), and diabetes. PCOS is also associated with several mental health disorders, including depression and anxiety.
How To Treat Polycystic Ovary Syndrome
Although there’s no cure for polycystic ovary syndrome, several medications are available that can treat and manage PCOS symptoms, including hair loss. If you’ve been diagnosed with PCOS, your healthcare provider may prescribe one or several of the following medications:
Hormonal birth control. Several hormonal forms of birth control are used to treat and manage PCOS symptoms, including the pill, patch, vaginal ring, injection, and intrauterine hormonal device (IUD).
These may help to regulate your menstrual cycle, improve acne, reduce body hair, and lower your risk of complications such as endometrial cancer.
Anti-androgen medications. Medications that lower your production of androgens or block their effects may help to treat and prevent hair loss, acne, facial/body hair growth, and other PCOS symptoms. Some medications, such as spironolactone, are typically used off-label for this purpose.
Diabetes medications. Some medications used to treat diabetes, such as metformin, may be used off-label to treat PCOS. These medications lower insulin resistance and can help with symptoms such as facial/body hair growth and irregular periods.
Medications that induce ovulation. If you have PCOS and want to become pregnant shortly, your healthcare provider may prescribe medication to assist your ovaries in releasing eggs.
Polycystic ovary syndrome can cause various symptoms, including hair loss that may worsen over time. If you’ve been diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome and have noticeable hair loss, it’s best to talk to your healthcare provider as soon as possible. Based on the severity of your symptoms, you may need to use medication or make certain changes to your lifestyle.