How to Survive (And Yes, Even Thrive) with PCOS
By Judy Couch, FNP-C
PCOS – short for Polycystic Ovary (or Ovarian) Syndrome – is the most common female endocrine disorder in the United States. In fact, it affects 3.5 – 5 million women, or roughly 6-10% of the female population. Despite this, it is often overlooked because the cause is unknown and the symptoms vary greatly.
PCOS was once regarded as a solely reproductive disorder, but now it’s widely known PCOS is an endocrine disorder that requires lifelong treatment.
Why? Well, Polycystic Ovary Syndrome causes major hormone imbalances, such as low levels of progesterone and elevated levels of testosterone, estrogen, and insulin. These imbalances are present in very young women, but are often overlooked and not identified until childbearing years when women attempt to become pregnant and struggle with infertility.
First, you should identify if you have any physical symptoms. Each woman with PCOS will experience a unique mixture of symptoms, such as:
- Irregular menstrual cycles
- Excessive facial and body hair
- Male pattern hair loss on the head
- Acne, even into adulthood
- Weight gain
- Enlarged ovaries
- Acanthosis nigricans (darkening of the skin in the nape of the neck and under arms)
If some or all of these symptoms describe issues you are having, please talk to your doctor about an official diagnosis. This second step requires bloodwork to measure your hormone levels, as well as a transvaginal ultrasound to look for ovarian cysts.
Once you have been officially diagnosed, the third step is to aggressively manage your insulin resistance. Insulin resistance means your cells aren’t properly responding to insulin. Unfortunately, this is a significant contributor to the pathogenesis (development) of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome. We often prescribe Metformin to help regulate your insulin and help prevent type 2 diabetes.
Additionally, you may want to seek treatment for other health issues. There is a strong association between PCOS and obesity, dyslipidemia, and high blood pressure. If left untreated, these can increase your risk of heart disease, endometrial cancer, and other health issues.
Thriving with PCOS
If you have been diagnosed with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome and are looking for a natural, healthy way to manage your symptoms, we highly recommend hormone replacement therapy. It uses estrogens, progesterone, and/or testosterone that is identical to your own hormones. This replenishes your missing hormones, and combined with Metformin, can help decrease your PCOS symptoms so you can thrive again.
I also recommend checking out resources like PCOS Awareness Association for recipes, exercises, lifestyle choices, and other at-home tips you can use to effectively manage PCOS. As always, talk to your doctor if you have any questions or concerns.
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