Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS): Understanding the Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment Options

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With 1 in ten women having polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), chances are you either know someone who is struggling with this health condition or are dealing with it yourself.  It is one of the most common causes of female infertility and can produce all kinds of uncomfortable symptoms in the meantime. Fortunately, although PCOS is a lifelong health condition, the symptoms can be effectively treated using one or a combination of the many treatments available. In this article, we cover the most important information about polycystic ovary syndrome so you can quickly learn the most effective ways to start balancing your reproductive hormones to eradicate any difficulties you’re experiencing.

What is Polycystic Ovary Syndrome?  

Polycystic ovary syndrome, also known as polycystic ovarian syndrome or PCOS for short, is a health condition that’s caused by an imbalance in reproductive hormones. It affects as many as 5 million American women who are in their childbearing years and it is one of the most common causes of fertility issues for females.

The Risks of PCOS

This hormonal imbalance creates issues in the ovaries, which affects your ovulation during your monthly menstrual cycle. For example, instead of producing a healthy egg, as is done each month with a healthy menstrual cycle, PCOS may not release an egg during your period or the egg may not develop properly. This can lead to:

  • Cysts in the ovaries
  • Infertility issues
  • High levels of male hormones
  • Irregular or skipped periods
  • Pregnancy complications, such as preeclampsia, miscarriages, gestational diabetes, and c-sections. Your newborn may also have a higher risk of macrosomia (being heavy) and time in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) may be required.

PCOS can also cause several additional symptoms, such as hair growth on the face and body. This is called “hirsutism” and affects approximately 70% of women dealing with polycystic ovary syndrome. You may also experience quite the opposite – baldness. This is said to be a result of the high levels of male hormones commonly associated with polycystic ovary syndrome.

As someone suffering with PCOS, you may also experience acne, unexplained weight gain or difficulty losing weight, darkening of the skin particularly in neck creases, groin and under the breasts, or skin tags.

Overtime, PCOS can contribute to more serious, long-term health concerns, such as:

Common Treatments for PCOS

With all of that intimidating information being thrown at you, you’ll be happy to know that, although there is no cure for polycystic ovary syndrome, there are many ways you can effectively manage your symptoms and reduce the risks. From conventional medication to natural remedies and alternative therapies, speaking with your doctor will help you determine a treatment plan best suited for you based on your symptoms, plans for children and risk of more severe health complications. This may include the use of medication or a combination of treatments available.

To give you an idea of what you can expect when treating PCOS, here’s a quick look at some of the most common treatments:

  • Medication: There are various types of medication available to help treat PCOS symptoms.
    • Birth control is a popular option as it can help restore normal hormone levels, regulate ovulation, protect against endometrial cancer and relieve associated symptoms.
    • Metformin is a type of medication used to treat type 2 diabetes but it can also be used to treat PCS as it improves insulin levels. Studies found that taking metformin and practicing healthy eating habits and regular exercise was able to promote weight loss, decrease blood sugar and restore a healthy menstrual cycle better than if you were to just make diet and exercise changes.
    • Clomiphene: Another common medication used for PCOS is clomiphene. It’s a fertility drug that can help women struggling with PCOS to get pregnant.
  • Hair removal: If excessive hair growth is a symptom you’re desperate to find a solution to, hair removal can be an excellent option. You can do this in several ways. The first is to use hair removal medications that slow down hair growth. Laser hair removal is another treatment for this symptom, as well as electrolysis. 
  • Surgery: In more serious cases of PCOS, surgery may be a treatment option offered to you. This is often only used to improve fertility if the other options don’t work.

Natural Ways to Treat PCOS

Sometimes, the most common treatments aren’t always the best. This is particularly true if you’d rather take a natural approach to healing your polycystic ovary syndrome. Fortunately, there are many age-old remedies, natural treatments and alternative therapies that can help improve symptoms of PCOS and even increase fertility.

Diet Changes

Eating a healthy diet is key to improving all aspects of your life, including PCOS. While simply choosing to make healthier food choices can be an effective way to ease symptoms, studies found that eating a low glycemic index diet that consists largely of fruits, veggies and whole grains, can help regulate the menstrual cycle better than other weight loss diets.

Improving your diet can also help blood glucose levels and insulin use, which may help promote ovulation. Some other tips for using diet for PCOS are:

  • Eat more anti-inflammatory foods to ease symptoms
  • Increase your intake of iron-rich foods (spinach and eggs) to help with heavy periods
  • Focus on whole foods (forget the processed stuff)
  • Up your intake of magnesium by eating more bananas, spinach, almonds and cashews
  • Trade in your cup of java for decaf as caffeine can cause changes in hormones

Weight Loss

Making a conscious effort to shed those few extra pounds can significantly help your PCOS syndrome. Studies found that losing anywhere from 5% to 10% of your body weight can improve PCOS symptoms and regulate your menstrual cycle.

Losing weight will also help various factors commonly associated with PCOS, such as cholesterol levels and can even reduce your risk of heart disease and diabetes.

Some effective weight loss strategies include:

  • Eating a clean, healthy diet
  • Regular exercise for 30 minutes for at least 3 days a week
  • Intermittent fasting
  • Daily 20-minute walk
  • Limiting carbs, sugars and processed foods
  • Portion control

Nutritional Supplements

Another option to ensure you’re getting the nutrition you need to control your PCOS symptoms is nutritional supplements. Some common ones used for PCOS include:

Herbal Remedies

Adaptogens herbs are herbal pharmaceuticals that help the body adapt to stress and counteract the negative effects of it. When it comes to PCOS, some adaptogen herbs can also help ease your symptoms, including irregular periods, infertility, libido, depression and many others. Here’s a quick crash course on the best adaptogens for PCOS:

  • Ashwagandha: can help balance cortisol levels to improve stress and PCOS symptoms
  • Holy basil: can help reduce blood sugar, balance cortisol levels and prevent weight gain
  • Licorice root: for balancing hormones
  • Maca root: for boosting libido and fertility, balancing hormones, lowering stress hormones and helping treat depression
  • Chasteberry: can help enhance reproductive conditions

Extra Tips

Combining the healthy and positive changes to your diet and lifestyle suggested with a few extra tips can help treat PCOS and treat infertility. Some additional natural solutions to try are:

  • Stress management: yoga, meditation, improving sleep habits, self-care
  • Prioritizing sleep: getting 8 hours of sleep each night, establishing a regular bedtime, using natural sleep aids such as lavender
  • Avoiding endocrine disruptors: dioxins, pesticides, BPA, phthalates and glycol ethers are commonly found in soaps, makeup and canned goods
  • Acupuncture: can increase blood flow to your ovaries to ease symptoms

Whether you want to go the natural route for treating your PCOS or are looking for any effective treatment that will work, there’s certainly no shortage of options for you. So, although PCOS may be a lifelong condition, the fertility issues and other symptoms commonly associated with it don’t have to be a part of your journey.

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