Find Out 3 Lifestyle Changes That Can Help to Alleviate the Symptoms of PCOS
A few years back, a patient of mine came for a consultation when she had trouble getting pregnant after six months of trying. While taking her medical history, I learned about the symptoms of PCOS such as the weight gain and acne problems that went unnoticed for several years. She told me that she thought that it was the side effects of the birth control pills she was taking and thus, did not pay much attention to the symptoms.
Upon hearing the diagnosis of PCOS, she got worried that she will never be able to have a baby in the future. Well, the truth is pregnancy is very much possible for women suffering from this problem. The inability to conceive is more of a myth surrounding PCOS. In reality, this condition is manageable and nearly all women with PCOS should be able to achieve their dream to get pregnant and have a baby. While it is possible for some women to conceive naturally, some may need extra help and undergo fertility treatments to get pregnant.
Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a common hormonal, reproductive disorder affecting women of childbearing age. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates around 116 million women worldwide are affected by PCOS. Women with PCOS normally face metabolic issues and hormonal imbalance problems that may negatively impact their overall health and appearance. They are usually at increased risk for various medical conditions such as type 2 diabetes, insulin resistance, endometrial cancer, heart disease, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. In addition, PCOS accounts for nearly one-third of all infertility diagnoses in women.
Features of PCOS
There are three main features of PCOS, namely, irregular periods, high levels of male hormones, and polycystic ovaries. Doctors usually diagnose you with PCOS if you have at least two of the three main features of PCOS. Hence, let us understand better the three features of PCOS to gain a better understanding of this disorder.
- Polycystic ovaries
The name polycystic ovary syndrome generally refers to the formation of small cysts or fluid-filled sacs in the ovaries. However, according to John Hopkins Medicine, not all women with PCOS develop cysts. There is a possibility for some patients to develop cysts and not be diagnosed with PCOS. On the other hand, there are cases where some women may be diagnosed with PCOS even if they do not have a cyst in the ovaries. It is because the cyst is considered to be one of the symptoms and not the main cause of PCOS.
- High level of male hormones
PCOS usually happens when the ovaries produce an abnormal amount of the male sex hormone, Androgen. There are many problems associated with the increase in Androgen production in a woman’s body. Some of the problems associated with an elevated level of Androgen are excess facial or body hair, acne, and infertility issues.
- Irregular periods
PCOS typically involves hormonal imbalances. Women with PCOS tend to produce higher male hormones which can interfere with ovulation. This causes disturbance in the monthly ovulation and menstrual cycle leading to problems such as an irregular period or no periods.
The actual cause of PCOS is unknown
There is no concrete reason for the occurrence of PCOS. However, most experts associate PCOS with insulin resistance and genetics.
- Insulin resistance
Insulin is a hormone that regulates your blood sugar level. It aids the glucose to enter into the body’s cells to be used as energy or stored for future use. When your body resists insulin, it causes the blood sugar level to increase and this may lead to other health complications such as diabetes or obesity.
PCOS can be hereditary. It means that you have a higher chance of having PCOS if your mom or closer female relatives are diagnosed with PCOS.
Becoming aware of the symptoms
You may get PCOS at any time after puberty. Usually, the symptoms can only be observed in your late teens or early 20s. However, not all women diagnosed with PCOS will have all the symptoms listed below. Some may only have one or two symptoms and thus may overlook meeting a doctor for consultation and undergoing proper treatment. The symptoms may also vary in terms of severity. That is the reason why some women may only be diagnosed with PCOS during fertility consultation.
Here are some of the common symptoms of PCOS that you shall be aware of:
- Irregular period
You may have missed periods or may not be having periods for a few months. It may be due to excessive androgen and high insulin levels. Irregular periods are often considered a primary symptom of PCOS. However, it can be a false alarm as it may also be a symptom of another health condition. Thus, it is best to consult your doctor and get a proper diagnosis so that you can start managing the symptoms well and take better care of your body.
- Excessive hair growth
You may notice heavy hair growth on the face, back, chest, and abdomen. These can be due to high androgen levels in your body.
- Weight Gain
Women with PCOS may gain weight rapidly due to insulin resistance. This condition also may increase the production of male hormones which typically causes an increase in abdominal fat. The uncontrolled weight gain can then lead to obesity issues.
Trouble getting pregnant may also be one of the symptoms. This is usually caused by the disturbance in the ovulation process and menstrual cycle. Thus, it is best for intending parents to consult the doctor earlier when they are unable to conceive after six months of trying. Proper diagnosis of the causes of infertility can help the doctor to suggest the best treatment for you to achieve your parenthood dream.
Doctors diagnose PCOS after doing some tests and examinations. Your doctor may talk to you about PCOS symptoms, the history of the medical condition of your family and yours along with your menstrual flow and weight changes during the consultation. They will then proceed with the physical exam to assess your condition before doing the pelvic exam, blood test, and pelvic ultrasound.
- Pelvic exam
Doctors usually examine your pelvis to check if your ovaries are swollen. It is also done to find out if there is any growth in your uterus.
- Blood test
This test is ordered to check your hormone level and blood glucose level. The doctor may check for Follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) to find out if there is any imbalance in hormone levels or thyroid issues. With PCOS, the result may be lower than usual. On top of that, the doctor will also evaluate the Luteinizing hormone (LH) as women with PCOS tend to have a higher level of LH. The doctor may also check the cholesterol and triglyceride levels. It helps to examine further health complications like heart attack and stroke.
- Pelvic Ultrasound
Ultrasound is done to check the thickness of the uterus lining and the presence of cysts or tumours in the ovaries. This procedure is done by inserting a device into the vagina. It emits sound waves and is translated into images on a computer screen. You may undergo minor surgery and treatments if cysts or endometriosis (a condition where the uterine lining forms outside the uterus) are present.
3 Lifestyle Changes That Can Help to Alleviate the Symptoms of PCOS
There is no cure for PCOS. However, there are a few treatments to manage the symptoms. A healthy lifestyle is a practical approach to reducing the symptoms. It would require you to do some physical activities along with the intake of a healthy diet. Adapting to a healthy lifestyle can help to control the PCOS symptoms.
Exercising can help to manage some symptoms associated with PCOS. It can help you to reduce your weight and also your testosterone levels. Around 50% of women with PCOS suffer from being overweight.
Losing weight can help to reduce testosterone, which can balance out your hormonal level. Having a balanced hormonal level can restore fertility and ovulation. Regular exercise may also combat weight gain by burning calories and building muscle mass, which decreases insulin resistance. Exercise may also control the cholesterol level and other hormones such as testosterone. Some of the recommended exercises involve aerobic exercises like walking, cycling, and more.
Eating healthy food can help you manage your symptoms of PCOS. Including whole grains, fresh fruits, vegetables, and sources of protein in the right amount in your diet can help you to reduce weight and prevent obesity problems. Besides that, avoiding processed food and fast food helps to keep your weight in check. Staying hydrated by drinking enough water and following the diet plan suggested by your doctor or nutritionist also facilitates your weight loss journey.
High levels of stress have the potential to worsen your PCOS symptoms. Thus, it is important to learn the proper way to destress and get it under control. Some stress-relieving practices include meditation and practicing mindfulness techniques. In cases of extreme stress, it will be beneficial to enroll in peer support sessions or seek professional help from a licensed counsellor or therapist.
You are not alone
Generally, PCOS is a common yet underdiagnosed problem faced by many women of childbearing age. It is a lifelong condition that can affect various aspects of a woman’s health and thus it is necessary for all women diagnosed with PCOS to take efforts to manage their symptoms and adopt lifestyle changes that can help to ease their symptoms.
PCOS may not have a cure yet, but remember that the symptoms are manageable and treatable. Pregnancy is also very much possible for women suffering from PCOS. As long as you manage the symptoms well and get proper treatment from your doctor, you can achieve pregnancy. Thus, do not hesitate to talk to your doctors to get all the support and care you need to go through this condition. You are not alone and there are many readily available treatments and care nowadays to aid you in managing your symptoms of PCOS so that it didn’t worsen over time.
You may also watch videos here about PCOS: Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS)
This blog is intended for educational purposes only. All contents here is general in nature and does not take into account your personal circumstances. Please consult with your health care professional to ensure you get the right diagnosis and treatment.