Understanding PCOS (Polycystic Ovary Syndrome): Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment Options for Women's Health

Understanding PCOS (Polycystic Ovary Syndrome): Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment Options for Women's Health

June 26, 2023
Clinically reviewed by Dr. Mary Oleksowicz

Essential Takeaways

  1. PCOS (Polycystic Ovary Syndrome) is a common hormonal disorder affecting 5-10% of women of reproductive age worldwide.
  2. It is characterized by symptoms such as irregular menstrual periods, ovarian cysts, excess androgen (male hormone) production, and often associated with conditions like obesity, insulin resistance, and infertility.
  3. Diagnosis involves a comprehensive evaluation by a healthcare provider, including medical history review, physical examination, hormone level tests, and potentially imaging studies. Treatment options may include lifestyle changes, herbal medicine, medications to manage symptoms and regulate hormones, and fertility treatments if needed.

PCOS stands for Polycystic Ovary Syndrome. It is a hormonal disorder that affects many women of reproductive age. PCOS is characterized by a combination of symptoms and hormonal imbalances. The exact cause of PCOS is unknown, but it is believed to involve a combination of genetic and environmental factors.

The main symptoms of PCOS include:

  1. Irregular menstrual cycles/ periods: Women with PCOS may have infrequent or prolonged menstrual periods, or they may experience unpredictable bleeding.
  2. Excess androgen levels: Androgens are male hormones that are also present in females, but in lower amounts. Women with PCOS may have higher levels of androgens, leading to symptoms such as acne, excess body hair growth (hirsutism), and male-pattern hair loss.
  3. Ovarian cysts: The term "polycystic" in PCOS refers to the appearance of the ovaries on ultrasound. Multiple small cysts can develop on the ovaries, but the cysts themselves are not harmful or cancerous.

Other common symptoms and health problems associated with PCOS include:

  • Weight gain or difficulty losing weight
  • Insulin resistance and higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes
  • Darkening of the skin, particularly in skin folds such as the neck or armpits (acanthosis nigricans)
  • Sleep apnea
  • Mood disorders, such as depression and anxiety
  • Infertility or difficulty getting pregnant due to irregular ovulation

Diagnosis of PCOS is typically based on a combination of symptoms, physical examination, blood tests to assess hormone levels, and an ultrasound to evaluate the ovaries.

While there is no cure for PCOS, the condition can be managed through lifestyle changes, medication, and other treatments. Treatment goals often include regulating menstrual cycles, managing symptoms like acne and excess hair growth, promoting weight loss (if necessary), and addressing any underlying health conditions such as insulin resistance or infertility.

If you suspect you may have PCOS or have concerns about your menstrual cycle or other related symptoms, it is advisable to consult with a healthcare professional who can provide an accurate diagnosis and guide you through appropriate management options.

Good To Know

Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) is a common hormonal disorder affecting women of reproductive age. The exact prevalence of PCOS varies depending on the criteria used for diagnosis and the population being studied. However, it is estimated that PCOS affects approximately 5-10% of women of reproductive age worldwide. It is important to note that PCOS is often under diagnosed or misdiagnosed, as the symptoms can vary and overlap with other conditions. Additionally, many women with PCOS may not seek medical attention unless they are experiencing specific fertility concerns or other related health issues.

What do I do when I have PCOS (Polycystic Ovary Syndrome)?

If you have been diagnosed with PCOS (Polycystic Ovary Syndrome) or suspect that you have PCOS, there are several steps you can take to manage the condition and alleviate symptoms. Here are some strategies that may be helpful:

  1. Lifestyle modifications:
    • Maintain a healthy weight: Losing weight, if suffering from overweight or obesity, can improve hormonal balance and reduce symptoms of PCOS. Even a modest weight loss of 5-10% can be beneficial.
    • Exercise regularly: Engage in regular physical activity to help with weight management, improve insulin sensitivity, and reduce symptoms.
    • Eat a balanced diet: Focus on a diet that includes whole, unprocessed foods, plenty of fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains. Consider working with a registered dietitian who specializes in PCOS for personalized guidance.
    • Manage stress: Stress can worsen PCOS symptoms, so incorporate stress-reduction techniques such as exercise, meditation, yoga, or counseling.
  2. Medications:
    1. PCOS (Polycystic Ovary Syndrome) is a common hormonal disorder affecting 5-10% of women of reproductive age worldwide.
    2. It is characterized by symptoms such as irregular menstrual periods, ovarian cysts, excess androgen (male hormone) production, and often associated with conditions like obesity, insulin resistance, and infertility.
  3. Diagnosis: Diagnosis involves a comprehensive evaluation by a healthcare provider, including medical history review, physical examination, hormone level tests, and potentially imaging studies. Treatment options may include lifestyle changes, herbal medicine, medications to manage symptoms and regulate hormones, and fertility treatments if needed. Oral contraceptives can help regulate menstrual cycles and reduce androgen levels, improving symptoms such as acne and excessive hair growth.
    • Anti-androgen medications: These medications can block the effects of androgens and help reduce symptoms like hair growth and acne.
    • Insulin-sensitizing medications: If you have insulin resistance, medications such as metformin can help improve insulin sensitivity and regulate menstrual cycles.
    • Fertility medications: If you are trying to conceive, your doctor may prescribe medications to induce ovulation and increase your chances of getting pregnant.
  4. Regular medical check-ups:
    • Schedule regular visits with your healthcare provider to monitor your symptoms, assess hormone levels, and make adjustments to your treatment plan as needed.
    • Get routine screenings for related conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol.
  5. Support and education:
    • Seek support from others with PCOS through online communities, support groups, or local organizations.
    • Educate yourself about PCOS to better understand the condition and its management options.

It's important to note that the management of PCOS (Polycystic Ovary Syndrome) varies depending on individual symptoms and goals. Work closely with your healthcare provider, who can tailor a treatment plan based on your specific needs. They may recommend additional interventions such as fertility treatments, hair removal methods, or specialized therapies based on your situation.

Remember, PCOS is a chronic condition, but with proper management and lifestyle changes, many women with PCOS can effectively control their symptoms and improve their overall health.

Natural remedies to help with PCOS (Polycystic Ovary Syndrome)?

While lifestyle modifications and medical interventions are typically the mainstay of PCOS management, some natural remedies and herbal supplements have been explored for their potential benefits. It's important to note that natural remedies and herbal medicine should be used with caution and under the guidance of a healthcare professional. Here are a few options that have shown some promise in PCOS management:

  1. Inositol: Inositol is a naturally occurring compound that belongs to the vitamin B family. It has been found to improve insulin sensitivity, regulate menstrual cycles, and reduce androgen levels in women with PCOS. Inositol supplements, specifically myo-inositol and D-chiro-inositol, may be recommended, but consult with your healthcare provider for the appropriate dosage.
  2. Herbal supplements: Certain herbal supplements, such as saw palmetto, licorice root, and berberine, have been studied for their potential benefits in PCOS management. These herbs may help with hormonal balance, insulin sensitivity, or other PCOS-related symptoms. However, it is crucial to consult with a healthcare provider before using any herbal supplement, as they can interact with medications and may not be suitable for everyone.

It's important to approach natural remedies and herbal medicine with caution, as their efficacy and safety vary. Additionally, what works for one person may not work for another. Always consult with a qualified healthcare professional, such as a naturopathic Chinese Medicine doctor or an integrative medicine practitioner, who can guide you in using natural remedies in conjunction with conventional treatment approaches.

Remember, PCOS is a complex hormonal disorder, and it's essential to have a comprehensive and individualized treatment plan tailored to your specific needs. Natural remedies should complement evidence-based medical interventions rather than replace them.

Which specific herbs can help with PCOS?

While some herbal supplements have been explored for their potential benefits in managing PCOS symptoms, it's important to note that scientific evidence supporting their effectiveness is limited, and individual results may vary. Additionally, herbal supplements can interact with medications or have side effects, so it's crucial to consult with a healthcare professional before using them. Here are a few herbal supplements that have been studied for PCOS:

  1. Cinnamon: Cinnamon has been investigated for its potential insulin-sensitizing effects. It may help improve insulin resistance, which is often associated with PCOS. It can be consumed as a spice in cooking or taken in supplement form.
  2. Saw palmetto: Saw palmetto is an herbal supplement that has been suggested to have anti-androgenic properties. It may help reduce excess hair growth (hirsutism) associated with PCOS. However, more research is needed to establish its effectiveness and appropriate dosage.
  3. Spearmint tea: Spearmint tea has been suggested to have anti-androgenic properties, potentially reducing excess hair growth and hirsutism associated with PCOS. Drinking spearmint tea regularly may help alleviate these symptoms, but further research is needed to establish its effectiveness.
  4. Licorice root: Licorice root has been traditionally used for its anti-inflammatory properties. It may help regulate hormone levels and alleviate some PCOS symptoms. However, licorice root can have side effects and interact with certain medications, so it should be used with caution and under professional guidance.
  5. Berberine: Berberine is a compound found in several plants, including goldenseal and barberry. It has been studied for its potential to improve insulin sensitivity and regulate menstrual cycles in women with PCOS. However, more research is needed to determine its long-term safety and effectiveness.