PCOS in teens: A parent’s guide

Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) is a prevalent hormonal disorder that concerns adult women and teens.

Understanding the prevalence of this condition in this age group is crucial in addressing the condition early and providing appropriate care and support.

This comprehensive article will delve into the interesting facts about PCOS in teens, shedding light on its various aspects.

And how parents can guide their teen girls toward managing symptoms and finding appropriate treatment options.

Get ready to uncover the mysterious world of PCOS and learn everything there is to know about this condition.

The prevalence of PCOS in teens

Awareness of the condition’s prevalence in teenagers has increased as more young women are receiving diagnoses for it.

It is crucial to understand the prevalence of this disorder in teenagers to increase awareness, promote early detection, and offer suitable support and treatment choices for afflicted people.

PCOS diagnosis criteria

Diagnosing PCOS in teens can be challenging, as the hormonal fluctuations during adolescence can mimic some of the symptoms associated with the condition.

The Rotterdam criteria, commonly used for diagnosing this condition, require the presence of at least two of the following three features [1]:

  • Irregular or absent menstrual cycles
  • Clinical or biochemical signs of hyperandrogenism (excess male hormone levels)
  • Polycystic ovaries on ultrasound

The diagnostic criteria may be modified in teens to account for the typical irregularities in menstrual cycles and hormonal fluctuations during adolescence.

Prevalence rates
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Prevalence rates

The occurrence of PCOS in teenagers differs based on the diagnostic criteria applied and the population being examined.

Estimates suggest that polycystic ovary syndrome affects approximately 8 and 13% of reproductive-aged women globally, but the exact prevalence in teens is still being investigated.

Some studies have reported rates as high as 6-18% in adolescent girls, depending on the diagnostic criteria applied and the population studied [2].

What causes PCOS in teens?

Several factors can increase the risk of developing PCOS in teens, including [3]:

Family history

A family history of this condition or other hormonal disorders can increase the likelihood of developing the disorder.


Excess body weight, particularly central obesity, is a significant risk factor for PCOS, contributing to insulin resistance and hormonal imbalances.

Insulin resistance

Teenagers with insulin resistance are likelier to develop PCOS because high amounts of insulin might cause the ovaries to release more androgens.

Premature adrenarche

Early onset of pubic hair development (before age 8) may be associated with a higher risk of PCOS later in adolescence.

Why is early detection important?

It is essential to detect and intervene early to effectively manage polycystic ovary syndrome in teenagers.

Timely diagnosis can help prevent long-term complications, such as infertility, metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease [4].

Moreover, early intervention can improve the quality of life for teens with this condition by addressing physical and psychological symptoms.

How to recognize PCOS signs in teens

Identifying the signs of polycystic ovary syndrome in teens can be challenging due to the hormonal fluctuations that occur during adolescence [5].

However, recognizing the symptoms early on can lead to better management and improved quality of life. Here are some common signs in teens that you should be aware of:

1. Irregular periods

One of the primary signs of PCOS in teens is irregular menstrual cycles. While it’s normal for teens to have some irregularity in their periods during the first couple of years after the onset of menstruation, persistent irregularities could be an indication of the disorder. This may include missed, infrequent, or more frequent periods than every 21 days.

2. Excess hair growth (hirsutism)

If women notice an unusual amount of hair growth in areas where hair is typically sparse, such as the face, chest, or back, it could indicate the presence of PCOS. This occurs due to increased androgen (male hormones) levels in the body.

3. Acne and oily skin

While acne is common during adolescence, persistent or severe acne that doesn’t respond to standard treatments can be a sign of PCOS. Similarly, excessively oily skin can also indicate an underlying hormonal imbalance.

4. Weight gain and difficulty losing weight

Unexplained weight gain, particularly around the waist, and difficulty losing weight despite following a healthy diet and exercise regimen may also be signs of PCOS.

Insulin resistance, often associated with the condition, can make weight management challenging for teens with the condition.

5. Thinning hair or hair loss

Androgenic alopecia, a hair loss caused by elevated androgen levels, can also indicate teen PCOS. This may manifest as thinning hair on the scalp or hair loss in a male-pattern distribution.

6. Dark patches on the skin

Teenagers with PCOS may develop dark and velvety patches on their skin, particularly in areas where skin folds, such as the neck, armpits, or groin, are present.

This condition, called acanthosis nigricans, can indicate insulin resistance, commonly associated with PCOS.

Lifestyle factors that influence PCOS

Multiple factors contribute to the development and progression of PCOS. Among these factors, lifestyle significantly influences the severity of PCOS symptoms and overall health outcomes.

Here are some key lifestyle factors that can impact this condition:

1. Diet

Eating a balanced and healthy diet is essential for managing PCOS symptoms and improving insulin sensitivity.

A diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats can help lower inflammation, control blood sugar, and maintain a healthy weight.

On the other hand, a diet high in refined sugar, processed carbs, and saturated fats might worsen PCOS symptoms and aggravate insulin resistance.


2. Physical activity

Regular physical activity is essential for managing PCOS. Exercise can help improve insulin sensitivity, regulate menstrual cycles, and promote weight loss, significantly alleviating PCOS symptoms.

Combining aerobic, strength training, and flexibility exercises can provide the most significant benefits.

3. Stress management

Chronic stress can negatively impact hormone levels and worsen PCOS symptoms. There are various stress management techniques that teens can engage in to help improve overall well-being, such as mindfulness meditation, deep breathing exercises, yoga, or engaging in hobbies.

4. Sleep

Poor sleep quality or inadequate sleep can contribute to insulin resistance and hormonal imbalances, exacerbating PCOS symptoms.

Establishing a regular sleep pattern, practicing a calming bedtime ritual, and optimizing your sleep setting can improve your sleep quality and aid in managing PCOS.

5. Smoking and alcohol consumption

Smoking and excessive alcohol consumption can adversely affect hormonal balance and overall health, worsening PCOS symptoms. Quitting smoking and limiting alcohol intake are essential steps to improve PCOS management and overall health.

6. Weight management

Maintaining a healthy weight is crucial for managing PCOS. Even a modest reduction of 5-10% weight loss can significantly improve insulin resistance, regulate menstrual cycles, and alleviate other PCOS symptoms.

A balanced diet and regular physical activity can help achieve and maintain a healthy weight.

The impact of PCOS on teen mental health

Polycystic Ovary Syndrome affects women and teens’ physical health and can profoundly impact their mental well-being [6].

The hormonal imbalances and physical symptoms associated with PCOS can contribute to various psychological issues, making it essential to address mental health concerns alongside the physical aspects of the condition.

Anxiety and depression

Teens with PCOS are at a higher risk of developing anxiety and depression due to hormonal imbalances and the challenges posed by their condition.

The uncertainty surrounding their health, concerns about appearance, and the potential impact on future fertility can all contribute to anxiety, sadness, and hopelessness.

Body image issues

The physical symptoms of PCOS, such as weight gain, excessive hair growth, acne, and hair loss, can lead to body image issues and low self-esteem in teens.

These negative perceptions of their appearance can exacerbate anxiety and depression and contribute to social isolation and self-consciousness.

Emotional eating and disordered eating patterns

The hormonal imbalances and insulin resistance associated with PCOS can cause fluctuations in appetite and cravings for unhealthy foods, leading to emotional eating or disordered eating patterns.

These behaviors can further exacerbate PCOS symptoms, create a vicious cycle, and negatively affect mental health.

Social isolation and relationship struggles

Teens with PCOS may feel isolated from their peers due to the stigma surrounding the condition or the perceived differences in appearance.

Additionally, the emotional toll of PCOS can strain relationships with friends, family, and romantic partners, leading to further feelings of isolation and loneliness.

Coping strategies and support

Addressing the mental health aspects of PCOS is crucial for the overall well-being of affected teens.

Developing healthy coping strategies, such as seeking professional help from a therapist, joining a support group, practicing mindfulness, and engaging in regular physical activity, can help improve their mental health.

Open communication with friends, family, and healthcare providers can provide much-needed support and understanding.

Educating loved ones about the condition can also help dispel misconceptions and create a more supportive environment for teens with this condition.

PCOS treatment options for teens

Polycystic Ovary Syndrome can be challenging for teens, but various treatment options are available to help manage symptoms and improve overall health.

Treatment plans for PCOS should be tailored to each individual’s needs and may include lifestyle changes, medications, and other interventions.

Here are some standard treatment options for teens:

1. Lifestyle Changes

Adopting a healthy lifestyle is crucial for managing PCOS symptoms. This includes:

  • Diet: Consume a balanced diet rich in whole grains, lean protein, fruits, vegetables, and healthy fats to help regulate blood sugar levels and maintain a healthy weight.
  • Exercise: Engage in regular physical activity, incorporating a mix of aerobic, strength training, and flexibility exercises to improve insulin sensitivity and promote weight loss.

2. Medications

Several medications can help address specific PCOS symptoms:

  • Hormonal contraceptives: Birth control pills, patches, or vaginal rings containing estrogen and progestin can help regulate menstrual cycles, reduce acne, and manage excessive hair growth [7].
  • Anti-androgens: Medications such as spironolactone can help reduce excessive hair growth and acne by blocking the effects of androgens (male hormones).
  • Insulin-sensitizing agents: Metformin, an insulin-sensitizing medication, can help improve insulin resistance and regulate menstrual cycles in some cases [8].
  • Topical treatments: For acne, topical treatments containing benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid, or retinoids can help manage breakouts.
Photograph: Tatiana_Mara/Envato

3. Hair removal and management

For excessive hair growth (hirsutism), various hair removal and management methods can be used, including:

  • Shaving
  • Waxing
  • Plucking
  • Electrolysis
  • Laser hair removal

Discussing these options with a healthcare professional before starting hair removal treatments is essential, as some methods may suit specific individuals.

4. Mental health support

Addressing the psychological aspects of PCOS is essential for overall well-being. Teens with the disorder may benefit from counseling or therapy to help manage feelings of anxiety, depression, or low self-esteem.

Mindfulness practices, such as meditation or yoga, can also help with stress management and emotional regulation.

5. Monitoring and follow-up

Regular monitoring and follow-up appointments with healthcare providers are crucial to track progress and adjust treatment plans as needed.

Teens with PCOS should maintain open communication with their healthcare team and keep track of their symptoms, medications, and lifestyle changes.

How to navigate PCOS with your teenage daughter

Navigating Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) as a teen can be challenging. Still, with the proper knowledge, support, and strategies, you can help your child manage the condition effectively and maintain a healthy lifestyle.

Here are some tips to help teens with PCOS navigate the ups and downs of living with this hormonal disorder:

1. Seek professional help

Consult a healthcare professional, such as a pediatrician, gynecologist, or endocrinologist, to discuss your concerns and receive a proper evaluation and diagnosis.

To manage PCOS effectively, they can guide you on the best course of action, including treatment options and lifestyle changes.

2. Educate yourself

Learn about PCOS, its symptoms, causes, and treatment options. Understanding your daughter’s condition can help you make informed decisions about their health and empower you to advocate for them during medical appointments.

3. Adopt a healthy lifestyle

A balanced diet and regular exercise are crucial for managing PCOS symptoms. Encourage your daughter to eat whole, nutrient-dense foods and combine aerobic, strength, and flexibility exercises to maintain a healthy weight and improve insulin sensitivity.

4. Prioritize mental health

Address the psychological aspects of living with PCOS by helping them practice stress management techniques, such as deep breathing exercises, meditation, or yoga.

Consider seeking professional help from a therapist or counselor to help them work through anxiety, depression, or low self-esteem.

5. Build a support network

Connect with friends, family, and healthcare providers who can offer understanding and support. You may also benefit from joining a PCOS support group, either in person or online, where you can share your experiences and learn from others facing similar challenges.

6. Be open with loved ones

Struggling with PCOS is difficult enough. You need to turn to your loved ones and help them learn about PCOS and its impact on your daughter’s life.

Open communication can help dispel misconceptions, create a more supportive environment, and foster stronger relationships with those around you.

7. Stay organized

Help your teen keep track of their symptoms, treatment plans, and medical appointments in a journal or digital app. Staying organized can help them monitor their progress, identify patterns, and provide valuable information for their healthcare providers.

8. Be patient with them

Managing PCOS is a journey; you must be patient with your child as you navigate this condition together. There may be setbacks, but remember that progress is possible with the right support and perseverance.

Closing thoughts

Young women and their families can prevent long-term complications by raising awareness and promoting a better understanding of PCOS, its symptoms, and its impact on physical and mental health.

Teens with PCOS, their families, and healthcare providers must work together to develop a comprehensive and personalized treatment plan that addresses the condition’s physical and psychological aspects.

By embracing a healthy lifestyle, seeking professional help, and building a solid support network, teens with PCOS can navigate the challenges of living with this disorder and lead fulfilling, healthy lives.

[1] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8409808
[2] https://bmcmedicine.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12916-020-01516-x 
[3] https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/pcos/symptoms-causes/syc-20353439 
[4] https://journals.lww.com/tnpj/fulltext/2022/10000/early_diagnosis_in_polycystic_ovary_syndrome.6.aspx
[5] https://kidshealth.org/en/teens/pcos.html
[6] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7053650/
[7] https://www.saintlukeskc.org/health-library/when-your-teenager-has-polycystic-ovary-syndrome-pcos
[8] https://www.saintlukeskc.org/health-library/when-your-teenager-has-polycystic-ovary-syndrome-pcos

Photograph: halfpoint/Envato
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