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Sheryl Kraft

Sheryl Kraft, a freelance writer and breast cancer survivor, was born in Long Beach, New York. She currently lives in Connecticut with her husband Alan and dog Chloe, where her nest is empty of her two sons Jonathan. Sheryl writes articles and essays on breast cancer and contributes to a variety of publications and websites where she writes on general health and wellness issues. She earned her MFA in writing from Sarah Lawrence College in 2005.

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PCOS and Menopause

Find out what happens to people with PCOS when hormones change at menopause

Your Health

October is World Menopause Awareness Month.

One in 10 people assigned female at birth (AFAB) deal with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) during their reproductive years. The condition, the exact cause of which is unknown, affects hormone levels, and people with PCOS produce too many androgens, which is a group of hormones that includes testosterone among others.

We reached out to Mary Jane Minkin, M.D., a clinical professor of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive sciences at the Yale University School of Medicine and a member of HealthyWomen’s Women’s Health Advisory Council, to find out what you need to know about PCOS and how it affects menopause.

What happens to people with PCOS, besides missed or irregular periods and difficulties with fertility?

The common symptoms of PCOS include:

  • Acne
  • Weight gain
  • Excessive hair growth (especially on the face and chin)
  • Skin tags or darkening skin in areas like neck creases, groin and underneath breasts
  • Hair loss or thinning hair (especially on the scalp, as in male-pattern baldness)

Does PCOS cause early menopause?

No, PCOS does not cause early menopause. In fact, people with PCOS tend to go through menopause about two years later than people without PCOS.

What happens to PCOS as you reach menopause? Does it change?

One thing that does change if you have PCOS is that your menstrual cycles will likely become more regular as you hit your 40s and inch closer to menopause, said Mary Jane Minkin, M.D., a clinical professor of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive sciences at the Yale University School of Medicine and a member of HealthyWomen’s Women’s Health Advisory Council.

So, because hormone levels gradually fall during menopause, does PCOS go away after menopause?

Not exactly, no. Although menopause reduces the hormones progesterone and estrogen, menopause does not decrease the levels of androgens. Testosterone levels do eventually decrease in people with PCOS, but studies have found that this does not occur until around age 70, which is approximately 20 years post-menopause for most women.

Read: Fast Facts: Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) Across Your Lifespan >>

Because the PCOS hormonal imbalance doesn't change for many years, people with PCOS still have the same health risks that have always existed with PCOS, as it affects many systems in the body.

What health conditions are linked to PCOS?

Aging and perimenopause and menopause increase the risk of conditions like diabetes, stroke and heart attack, and people with PCOS are also at higher risk for:

  • High blood pressure
  • Unhealthy cholesterol levels
  • Sleep apnea
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Endometrial cancer
  • Obesity
  • Chronic inflammation

If you’re dealing with PCOS and perimenopause and menopause, what can you do to lower your risk for health issues?

Be extra vigilant. “Keep an eye on blood pressure and BMI (body mass index); eat a healthy, well-balanced diet and make sure to get regular exercise,” Minkin said.

It's especially important to talk to your healthcare provider (HCP) if you’re living with obesity because obesity can make PCOS worse. According to the Mayo Clinic, losing just 5% of your body weight may help make a difference.

There is no cure for PCOS but research is ongoing. The good news is that symptoms can be controlled — similar to the way menopause symptoms can be controlled and managed — with treatments including healthy lifestyle changes. Talk to your HCP about your options for managing PCOS and menopause.

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