Polycystic ovary syndrome or PCOS is a common condition where a woman’s ovaries form generally harmless multiple small water-filled cysts or follicles in their ovaries, causing their hormones to become out of balance. Fibroids or noncancerous tumors of muscles and fibrous tissue may also form in the uterus. The condition is marked by increased levels of androgens or male sex hormones in the body and irregular menstrual periods.
Although the exact cause of PCOS is unknown, contributing factors that could play roles are high insulin levels in the blood that increase androgen production and inhibit ovulation, low-grade inflammations, heredity, and abnormally high production of testosterone.
The symptoms can be managed, and long-term complications can be prevented through early diagnosis and numerous treatment options including holistic practices regarding lifestyle and diet.
What are the symptoms of PCOS?
The signs and symptoms of PCOS often become apparent during the start of a woman’s reproductive age, which is around the time of the first menstrual period. However, they can also develop or worsen later in life due to triggers like weight gain or obesity. Symptoms may also start as mild at first and progress through time. A woman can also experience a few or a lot of these symptoms at a time. The most signs and symptoms of PCOS include:
- Substantial weight gain or difficulty to lose weight
- Severe acne breakouts
- Excessive hair growth on the face and body especially on the belly, back, and chest. Facial hair is often darker or thicker.
- Male-pattern baldness or thinning of the hair on the scalp
- Periods that are heavier, more painful, and longer than normal. Period pain can also be a sign of endometriosis, a different but related condition.
- Irregular, infrequent or absent periods are the hallmark signs of PCOS. Most women with PCOS only have less than nine periods in one year or no periods at all.
- More than 35 days between successive periods
- Fertility issues. PCOS can make pregnancy difficult to achieve or sustain, leading to complications like miscarriage and premature births.
- Depression, anxiety, and eating disorders
Other complications are:
- Sleep apnea
- Endometrial cancer
- Nonalcoholic steatohepatitis
- Gestational diabetes or pregnancy-induced high blood pressure
- Abnormal uterine bleeding
- Metabolic Syndrome
- Type 2 diabetes and prediabetes
How Lifestyle Modifications can Help in PCOS patients
Although not all PCOS patients are markedly overweight, the condition has a strong association with insulin resistance and obesity. A study about the role of diet and nutrition in PCOS management published in 2007 in the Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology (1) showed that proper nutrition, along with exercise, can significantly improve a patient’s reproductive function, cardiometabolic risks, and endocrine function, even without a notable weight loss. Some of the tips suggested in the study are:
- Restrict fat intake to 30% or less of total calories with a low proportion of saturated fats.
- Reduce the intake of low glycemic carbohydrates which contributes to weight gain and stimulates carbohydrate cravings and hunger.
- Engage in a specifically tailored diet and exercise for your personal needs and preferences.
- Distribute your calorie intake between several meals throughout the day with less sugary drinks and snacks.
- Take drugs for insulin sensitivity and weight loss in combination with exercise and diet to prolong their otherwise short-term effects.
If you have at least two of the signs and symptoms mentioned, tell your doctor about it because there’s a high possibility that you have PCOS. If you do, keep the tips in mind along with your Ob-Gyn’s advice.
1. Farshchi, H., Rane, A., Love, A., & Kennedy, R. L. (2007). Diet and nutrition in polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS): pointers for nutritional management. Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, 27(8), 762-773.
2. Vause TD, Cheung AP, Sierra S, et al. Ovulation induction in polycystic ovary syndrome. J Obstet Gynaecol Can. 2010 May. 32(5):495-502. [Medline].
3. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Polycystic ovary syndrome. Washington, DC: American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists; 2009. ACOG practice bulletin; no. 108. [Full Text].