While irregular periods are common among teenage girls, an underlying hormonal disorder may be to blame if this problem persists.
Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) is an endocrine disorder that is characterized by an excess of androgens or male hormones in the body. The imbalance of hormones interferes with the growth and release of eggs from the ovaries, which can prevent ovulation and menstruation.
Menstruation begins on average at age 12, and a normal menstrual cycle is approximately 28 days. Dr. Kavic reports that girls should have a regular menstrual cycle within approximately two years after they get their first period or by age 17 at the latest.
“PCOS can be overlooked because irregular periods are normal in teens,” said Suzanne Kavic, MD, division director, Reproductive Endocrinology, Loyola University Health System (LUHS). “However, if erratic menstrual cycles persist later into the teen years, girls should see a specialist to determine if something else might be causing this issue.”
Other symptoms associated with PCOS can include weight gain, hair growth on the body and face, thinning of the hair on the head, acne and infertility. Women with PCOS are at risk for high blood pressure, high cholesterol and endometrial cancer. People with PCOS also tend to become resistant to insulin, which can lead to diabetes.
“Symptoms associated with this syndrome can be concerning to young girls particularly during the teen years, which is already a stressful time,” Dr. Kavic said. “The good news is we can identify PCOS at an early age and begin managing symptoms to alleviate some of the anxiety for these girls.”
Treatments for PCOS can include a combination of exercise, diet modifications and medication. Weight loss helps to regulate male hormones and blood sugar levels, which can restore ovulation and menstruation. Birth control pills also may be prescribed to control the menstrual cycle while other hormone therapies can decrease androgen levels and curb symptoms.