You’ve just been (or about to be) diagnosed with PCOS for your irregular periods, now what?
Why is lab work important in understanding the progression and underlying causes of PCOS and its symptoms?
Treating symptoms alone is a band-aid solution to correcting a problem. Treating symptoms without the necessary investigation is like blindly applying a band-aid to a boo-boo and hoping you get it in the right spot. Why would you do that?
Likewise, why blindly put a band-aid on your health? I see a lot of women in my practice who either have a PCOS diagnosis or symptoms of PCOS, with very basic or little to no investigative lab work. These ladies have irregular cycles, intense carb cravings, a mighty hard time to lose weight, hair loss, and acne, and a whole lot of feeling pretty low about their appearance, health, and self-esteem.
Though these signs can be a flaming red sign pointing to PCOS, there are other root causes worth exploring. Why? PCOS is more than just irregular periods; insulin, thyroid hormones, and inflammation all contribute to the pattern of symptoms present.
As a naturopathic doctor, I encourage the awesome ladies I treat in my practice to consider a COMPLETE hormone investigation. This takes out the guesswork in piecing together which hormones are triggering your PCOS symptoms (i.e.: is it adrenal or insulin triggered?) while also giving us a baseline to build their specific treatment plans on.
Here is a snippet of the hormone-related labs I like to run in my patients.
- HbA1C: Marker for measuring how your blood sugar has been in the past 3 months. HbA1C value between 6.0%-6.4% indicates pre-diabetes. How well your body is at processing blood sugar reveals the risk of developing/already having insulin resistance; a key player in the worsening of PCOS symptoms, weight gain, and inflammation.
- SHGB: Sex Hormone Binding Globulin (try saying that 10 times fast!) Produced in the liver, SHBG has a high binding affinity for DHT (the hormone that causes male-type symptoms) and Testosterone. SHBG is like a sponge soaking up all that excess testosterone, keeping it from floating around in the blood.
- Androstenedione: Produced by the ovaries and adrenal glands, this steroid hormone marker is overproduced by the ovaries in PCOS.
- DHT: Dihydrotestosterone is produced by the conversion of testosterone by 5-a-reductase (an enzyme). DHT binds much strongly to testosterone receptors, and high levels have been attributed to male pattern balding in men and women.
- Ferritin: The storage form of iron. Some symptoms of low iron include fatigue, low mood, feeling cold, weakness, and hair loss*.
- TSH: Thyroid Stimulating Hormone acts on the thyroid gland to tell it to produce thyroid hormones (T3 and T4). We Measure TSH, T3 and T4 to rule out thyroid issues that may be contributing to irregular periods, hair loss, weight gain (i.e. hypothyroidism can present with hair loss, weight gain, irregular menstrual cycles, coldness, fatigue).
Notice how many PCOS symptoms are also present in other conditions or are affected by several hormones? Testing estrogen, LH, and FSH aren’t enough to help us understand the full hormonal picture. Yes, the symptoms look a heck of a lot like PCOS and you may even have a polycystic ovarian syndrome diagnosis, but until we understand the root cause and other hormonal and organ involvements, management and treatments are just a shot in the dark or conventional birth control pills.
Think you have PCOS and want to know how your specific hormonal pattern is affecting your periods? Connect with me here and let’s talk about finally improving your hormones so you can finally have a happy period!