Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) is one of the leading causes of female infertility in the United States. While information about PCOS is increasingly more available, healthcare studies have cited that nearly 70% of those afflicted remain undiagnosed.
Not only does lack of diagnosis put a woman’s future fertility at risk, but it also prevents her from making the lifestyle and healthcare choices required to prevent or manage other health conditions associated with PCOS. Women with PCOS have higher incidences of obesity, pre-and type 2 diabetes, hormone imbalance, high blood pressure, and heart disease.
Observing annual women’s wellness exams with your OB/GYN and being honest about your menstrual cycle and lifestyle are the foundation of taking care of your reproductive system and determining whether you have PCOS or other factors/precursors of reproductive issues.
While we aren’t 100% sure what causes PCOS, we believe hormone imbalance and insulin resistance are contributing factors. The sooner we diagnose, the sooner you can make lifestyle changes and explore other treatment options that keep the condition in check.
Signs & Symptoms of PCOS
The majority of patients with PCOS notice or experience signs and symptoms of the syndrome, which include:
● Carrying the majority of your weight in the middle
● Missed or irregular periods (due to lack of ovulation)
● Male hair patterns (thin on the top of the crown with excess hair on the arms, chest, back, abdomen and thighs, etc.)
● More-than-normal skin tags and moles
● Darker skin patches
● Difficulty losing weight )even when committed to diet and exercise)
● Sugar cravings (due to fluctuations in blood sugar levels)
● Multiple cysts in the ovaries (like a string of pearls) may show up in ultrasounds
● Tendencies towards depression or mood swings
● Sleep apnea
● High cholesterol or high blood pressure
● Pre- or Type 2 diabetes earlier in life
If any of these symptoms resonate with you, schedule an appointment with your OB/GYN and check-in. Tell them you want to be screened for PCOS, and you may find that your advocacy gains the attention you need to.
“Skinny PCOS”: Not All PCOS Presents the Same
Yes, it’s true that the majority of women with PCOS have some or even all of the above symptoms. However, some do not. There are women with BMIs that fall right in the normal range and don’t present with the same physical symptoms as their fellow PCOS sisters. We call this “lean” or “skinny” PCOS.
Women with lean polycystic ovarian syndrome are not considered overweight or obese and have a BMI less than 25. However, they do share some of the other symptoms. Most commonly, women with lean PCOS experience:
● Irregular or no periods
● Excess hair growth on their chest, abdomen, backs, and thighs
● Irregular blood sugar levels and insulin resistance (often leading to type 2 diabetes)
● Higher androgen (male hormone) levels
Management & Treatment of PCOS
While there is no cure, you can do things to manage it and reduce its effects. In addition to supporting your overall wellbeing and minimizing your risks of developing other health conditions linked to PCOS, these treatments also support your future fertility health.
Eating a low-carb, anti-inflammatory diet
We recommend that patients with PCOS create a nutrition plan that synthesizes the tenets of an anti-inflammatory diet with a low-carb plan (such as Adkins or South Beach) to support balanced blood sugar levels. This also promotes healthy weight management goals.
Get regular exercise
Insulin resistance and blood sugar irregularities often correlate to excess weight. Therefore, a regular exercise program supports weight management and blood sugar balance.
Talk to your doctor about taking a birth control pill
Some women find that taking birth control pills help to regulate hormones, lowering androgen levels, so they ovulate regularly. Birth control pills can alleviate pelvic pain and discomfort and help control excess hair growth and acne on the face and body. Patients revisit this treatment when they’re ready to get pregnant.
Consider Metformin or other (pre)diabetes medications
If natural solutions aren’t enough to minimize symptoms, especially those associated with excess weight and erratic blood sugar patterns, speak to your doctor about Metformin or other medications used to treat prediabetes.
NOTE: At this time, Metformin is not approved by the FDA as a treatment for PCOS, but your doctor may find you require a prescription based on your blood test results.
Women with PCOS typically have higher levels of androgens (male hormones), which is why they’re prone to thinning hair on the head, excess hair on the body, and acne. There are medications specifically designed to lower male hormone levels. These can be discussed with your doctor.
Are You Ready to Get Pregnant with PCOS?
Preconception appointments are a must for women with PCOS who are ready to conceive. Schedule an appointment with Overlake, and we’ll help you create a personalized fertility plan. If you are one of the 12% of women who struggle to get pregnant with PCOS, we can begin seeking fertility treatment options such as Clomid or can refer you to a fertility specialist as needed.