Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) and early menopause are two distinct conditions that share similar symptoms. Both are characterized by disruption of the menstrual cycle, so women with PCOS sometimes are convinced they are experiencing early menopause, and vice versa. Getting the right diagnosis is critical so that appropriate treatment can begin.
PCOS is a condition that is marked by irregular periods, increased hair growth, especially on the face, obesity, skin problems, insulin resistance, high blood pressure and infertility. The ovaries of patients with PCOS are typically larger than normal and filled with small cysts, but not every woman ovarian cysts has PCOS symptoms. PCOS patients experience hormonal abnormalities, including decreased levels of estrogen and increased levels of testosterone.
Early menopause is menopause that occurs before the age of 45. In terms of symptoms, periods become irregular and then stop, and women experience hot flashes, vaginal dryness, mood swings and night sweats.
Changes in the menstrual cycle is the biggest symptom that PCOS and early menopause share. However, the hormone fluctuations associated with PCOS can cause symptoms that are similar to menopause, including hot flashes and mood swings.
Both PCOS and early menopause are diagnosed by using a combination of blood test results and symptoms. For PCOS, in terms of symptoms, doctors will look for a pattern of menstrual irregularity, obesity, skin problems including acne, and hair growth, especially facial hair growth. They will also run a panel of tests and look for hormonal irregularities, high blood lipid levels and signs of insulin resistance (high glucose levels). They may also perform an ultrasound of the ovaries to look for cysts.
When early menopause is suspected, doctors will look for irregular periods, hot flashes and mood changes. They will also run blood tests to check estradiol and follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) levels. If the estradiol, which is a variation of estrogen, is below 36, it indicates ovarian failure, and therefore, menopause. FSH levels over 40 mIU/mL similarly indicated that your ovaries are not producing as much estrogen as needed and that menopause is beginning.
Typically, doctors also run blood tests to rule out other conditions with similar symptoms, such as thyroid and adrenal conditions.
Weight loss is recommended for PCOS patients. Losing weight may clear up the symptoms completely. Metformin, a diabetes drug, is also used to regulate insulin levels and has shown promise in addressing other PCOS symptoms by regulating hormone levels overall. Birth control pills are also used to increase the estrogen and progestin levels of PCOS patients.
Early menopause is not reversible, but doctors can address the symptoms. Hormone replacement therapy is the most common choice as it helps correct the imbalance that is causing the menopause symptoms. Healthy eating and exercise are also recommended to alleviate symptoms.
According to the Mayo Clinic, PCOS is the most common hormone driven disorder in women of reproductive age. It may affect as many as 1 in 15 women, though many go undiagnosed.
Early menopause affects about 1 percent of women.