How to manage PCOS symptoms

PCOS affects between 4-20% of women, often goes undiagnosed, and has no definitive diagnostic test. In addition, its symptoms ranging from weight gain to irregular or missing periods, excess hair growth, ovarian cysts, low blood sugar, fatigue, and others are challenging to manage. If you’ve been diagnosed with PCOS or have at least a subset of the symptoms, how can you effectively manage them?

Doctors typically recommend a mix of lifestyle changes and medications for different symptoms:

Weight management:

  • Not surprisingly, a low-calorie diet and exercise are at the top of the recommendation list here
  • Interestingly, research shows that exercise is particularly beneficial to PCOS patients when it comes to fertility: A group of PCOS patients with a BMI of 30-35 who engaged in regular, ‘vigorous’ exercise (e.g., biking), had significantly higher rates of ovulation and natural conception; in contrast, vigorous exercise in the no-PCOS group was not beneficial to conceiving (more on fertility and exercise in our previous post)

Irregular periods & hormonal imbalance: 

  • Doctors often recommend going on hormonal birth control that contains estrogen and progestin to regulate hormone levels and decrease the levels of androgens (a group of hormones that includes testosterone)
  • Regulating hormone levels with birth control also often helps suppress cysts, excess hair growth, and acne
  • However, it’s important to note that being on hormonal birth control only masks symptoms and does not resolve them – for instance, if you go off hormonal birth control, you’ll likely return to irregular periods and missed ovulation

Excess hair growth

  • Besides hormonal birth control, doctors often prescribe other medications, including eflornithine, a facial cream that slows hair growth, or spironolactone that blocks excess androgen on the skin (but is also related to birth defects so can absolutely not be taken while you’re pregnant or trying to conceive)
  • Laser hair removal or electrolysis can be other effective treatments, especially for dark hair

No ovulation

  • We discuss the research on ovulation-inducing medication if you’re trying to conceive in our previous post

If you have any of the symptoms of PCOS, you should make an appointment with your doctor so they can perform a battery of tests and support you in managing symptoms. PCOS is also related to more serious health conditions, such as type 2 diabetes, the risk of which increases 6-fold, liver inflammation, uterine cancer, high blood pressure, mood disorders, and others, making it even more important to monitor on a regular basis.

We wish this common condition were discussed and researched more; we’re happy to talk to you about research more in-depth during our Ovally consults if you’re looking to undergo high-quality fertility treatment.

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