By Patricia Hollenback, R.N., BSN, OCN
Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a condition in which a woman’s hormones are out of balance. Most women with PCOS have small cysts that grow on their ovaries, which is where the name of the condition stemmed from. Although these cysts aren’t harmful, they lead to hormone imbalances.
PCOS hormone imbalances can cause problems with women’s periods, make it difficult to get pregnant, cause changes in appearance and over time, untreated PCOS can lead to serious health problems.
Although there isn’t a cure for PCOS, treating and controlling its symptoms are important – doing so can lower your risk of infertility, miscarriage, diabetes, heart disease and uterine cancer.
Here’s what treatment typically entails.
Regulating Your Menstrual Cycle
The most common characteristic of PCOS is irregular periods, including menstrual intervals longer than 35 days, fewer than eight menstrual cycles per year, failure to menstruate for four months or longer and prolonged periods that can be scant or heavy.
In order to regulate your cycle, your doctor may recommend a combination of birth control pills that contain both estrogen and progestin. These pills can also help reduce the symptom of excessive hair growth. As an alternative to birth control pills, you may use a skin patch or vaginal ring that contain a combination of the two hormones.
Helping You Ovulate
If you have PCOS and want to try to get pregnant, you may need medication to help you ovulate.
Maintaining a Healthy Weight
Women with PCOS are more likely to develop health problems associated with being overweight or obese and insulin resistance, including high cholesterol, high blood pressure, sleep apnea and type 2 diabetes.
Since obesity makes insulin resistance worse, weight loss can reduce insulin and androgen levels as well as restoring ovulation. If you have PCOS and are overweight, losing just 5 to 10 percent of your body weight can bring your periods back to normal and relieve some of your other PCOS symptoms.
Making Dietary Changes
Eating a balanced diet can help you maintain a healthy weight or lose weight. Since you have to be mindful of your insulin levels, you may want to consider a low-carbohydrate diet – low fat, high-carbohydrate diets may increase your insulin levels. Choose complex carbohydrates, which are high in fiber. Your diet should also include fruits, vegetables, whole grains and low-fat dairy products.
Exercise can help you regulate your weight and lower your blood sugar levels. Increasing your daily activity and following a regular exercise program may treat or prevent insulin resistance and control your weight.
About the Author
Patricia Hollenback, R.N., BSN, OCN
Patti is a champion for cancer prevention and early detection. As a nurse navigator, her primary goal is to create an open and trusting relationship with her patients in order to guide them through the medical maze of testing, treatment and recovery.