Is it PCOS (Polycystic Ovary Syndrome) or Hypothyroidism?

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Around 1 in 10 females of childbearing age have the condition known as PCOS (Polycystic Ovary Syndrome). However, many of the signs and symptoms of PCOS are similar to hypothyroidism.

Are some thyroid patients going undiagnosed for PCOS? And are some PCOS patients going undiagnosed for a thyroid condition?

Does Our Thyroid Deserve All The Blame?

A concern I have when speaking to members of the thyroid community is the habit of blaming perhaps too much on our thyroid condition. Obviously we all know our own bodies best, but the tendency to think that all and any health complaints must come from our diagnosed thyroid condition such as Hashimoto’s and hypothyroidism, could mean that we’re actually missing another health condition altogether.

On average, women with PCOS tend to have higher TSH levels and be subclinically (borderline) hypothyroid when compared to controls of the same age without PCOS. [4]

PCOS and Thyroid Conditions Share Symptoms 

Do any of the following signs and symptoms sound like thyroid ones?

Yes, they do! I’ve heard from many thyroid patients over the years who complain of these symptoms despite being on thyroid medication and with optimal levels. So what if they’re actually down to another issue, such as PCOS?

PCOS’ irregular periods, non-ovulation, high levels of male hormones in the body (excess androgen) which can lead to excess facial and body hair, failure to conceive, weight gain, acne and hair loss from the scalp can all be mistaken for symptoms of a thyroid condition such as Hashimoto’s and hypothyroidism. Menstrual issues with hypothyroidism are especially well-recognised. Hypothyroidism can lead to irregular menstrual cycles, non-ovulation and struggles to conceive. [1], [2], [3]

Although not every woman with PCOS will have every symptom, they will likely have a combination.

PCOS, like hypothyroidism and Hashimoto’s, is also associated with an increased risk of developing further health conditions, such as type 2 diabetes and high cholesterol levels.

Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis is Common in Those with PCOS

Hypothyroidism, and in particular, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, is more common in women with PCOS than in the general population. High levels of thyroid antibodies (Hashi’s) are found in one in three PCOS patients [4]. If a person has either Hashimoto’s or PCOS, the chance of being diagnosed with the other increases up to ten fold! [4, 5]

What Causes PCOS?

The cause of PCOS isn’t well known just yet, but we do know that it often runs in families, just like hypothyroidism and Hashimoto’s.

So Are Your Symptoms Thyroid Related or PCOS?

The best way to know is through testing. A full thyroid panel of TSH, Free T3, T4, Thyroid Peroxidase Antibodies, Thyroglobulin Antibodies at the very least, and Reverse T3 if possible, with results compared to optimal levels, should show if your thyroid is really causing the symptoms. Non-optimal thyroid levels can cause a lot of ongoing issues.

A diagnosis of PCOS is usually made following a ruling out of conditions with similar symptoms and a match of two to three of the following:

  • Irregular periods which indicate that you don’t regularly ovulate
  • Blood tests showing high levels of male hormones, such as testosterone
  • Scans showing you do indeed have polycystic ovaries

Any person with PCOS would benefit from being checked for a thyroid condition too and even if they’re found to be ‘only borderline‘ hypothyroid, evaluated on whether treatment for hypothyroidism could help. A quarter of all women with PCOS have a thyroid condition, but this largely goes missed.

How many women could be unaware of this additional health condition?

You can click on the hyperlinks in the above post to learn more and see references to information given, but also find more information below.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4287775/

References

1. Dittrich R, et al. Thyroid hormone receptors and reproduction, 2011

2. Krassas GE, et al. Thyroid function and human reproductive health, 2010

3. Unuane D, et al. Endocrine disorders and female fertility, 2011

4. Janssen OE, et al. High prevalence of autoimmune thyroiditis in patients with polycystic ovary syndrome, 2004

5. Ganie MA, et al. High prevalence of polycystic ovary syndrome characteristics in girls with euthyroid chronic lymphocytic thyroiditis: a case-control study, 2010

If you found this article beneficial, please take a moment to share it so we can help others get better with hypothyroidism and Hashimoto's, whilst also raising awareness. "Be Your Own Thyroid Advocate."

Written by Rachel, The Invisible Hypothyroidism

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