Signs of PCOS & How To Manage It
We are taught that painful periods are a part of life, that irregular periods are normal, that struggling to lose weight is natural. The reality is that all of these things can be indicators of a bigger issue; all of these things are signs of polycystic ovary syndrome or PCOS.
With the stigma around female intimate health being so prominent, PCOS is very rarely talked about in mainstream conversations. You might be surprised to learn, therefore, that 1 in 10 people with uteruses in the UK are estimated to have PCOS.
Whether you think you might have PCOS or you have received a diagnosis, you’ll be glad to learn that PCOS doesn’t have to be a drain on your life! Whilst you should always go to a Doctor to get a formal diagnosis, this article will provide a guide to PCOS, the signs of PCOS and the ways you can manage the symptoms including weight management techniques.
What is PCOS?
Put simply PCOS, or polycystic ovary syndrome, is a condition that affects people with uteruses that are of reproductive age. While the exact determining factors are unknown, PCOS is a hormonal issue in that it is caused by the imbalance of hormones. PCOS often causes high levels of “male” hormones. The ovaries become enlarged as a result of PCOS and will most often develop fluid filled sacs. This will most often cause irregular periods, weight gain and other symptoms outlined below.
Signs of PCOS:
The common signs of PCOS include:
- Irregular periods or having no periods at all
- Excessive hair growth – usually on the face, chest or back
- Gaining weight easily or struggling to lose it
- Oily skin or acne
- Thinning hair
The Rotterdam criteria for diagnosis describes that Doctors must note at least two of the following three criteria in order to diagnose PCOS:
- Ability to see sacs on ovaries on an ultrasound
- Lack of ovulation
- High levels of hormones such as androgens
Treatment of PCOS:
Whilst Doctors may prescribe a range of medication to target the fertility problems and the absent/irregular periods that come along with PCOS, you will still need to focus on the question of how to manage PCOS.
Since PCOS makes it more difficult for the body to regulate insulin, glucose can build up in the bloodstream and cause weight gain. For this reason, managing PCOS will often involve weight management but of course this is up to the individual and their goals.
As well as an increased risk of hypertension and cardiovascular disease, research also suggests that PCOS is often linked with Diabetes. People with uteruses that have Diabetes might suffer with PCOS and vice versa. Be sure to check in with your Doctor for a test as you will, of course, want to add Diabetes- related requirements to this list if relevant.
How To Manage PCOS:
Not only can PCOS impact on weight, but being of a high weight can worsen PCOS symptoms. It’s somewhat of a vicious cycle. By focusing on weight management, you can lower your raised insulin and androgen levels and, as a result, improve your experience of living with PCOS. Research even suggests that weight loss of 5-7% of total body weight over a period of 6 months can lower insulin and androgen significantly.
It can also help to consume most of your calories in the morning. People with uteruses with PCOS who ate the majority of their daily calories at breakfast for 12 weeks significantly improved their insulin and glucose levels as well as decreased their testosterone levels by 50 percent.
Focus on your nutrition:
It’s also important to take a closer look at your nutrition when focusing on weight management.
There are four main areas to focus on:
Reducing Advanced Glycation End Products. Advanced Glycation End Products are compounds that are formed when fat and sugar merge together in the bloodstream. They can also be formed in food and, when too many of them are consumed or made in the body, will accumulate. People with uteruses who battle with PCOS will have a higher number of AGE’s already so it is a good idea to avoid them where possible. Some ways you can do this include cooking at lower temperatures, cooking meat with acidic ingredients like vinegar, and cooking over ceramic rather than metal.
Reduce intake of food that has a High Glycaemic Index. Low Glycaemic foods- like pulses and wholegrain foods- are broken down slowly by the body so will not cause rapid spikes in glucose as High Glycaemic foods do.
Try adding supplements to your diet. Check out this article for the 10 best supplements for PCOS.
Use the SORA App (Available on iOS or Android) to keep an eye on your nutrition. Not only can you track calories in there, but you can gain access to insights from a range of nutritional experts.
When it comes to weight management, a key aspect is, of course, exercise. Exercise also offers a number of additional benefits to those suffering with PCOS including regulated hormones.
Studies show that vigorous aerobic exercise is the best form of exercise for those with PCOS because it is most likely to reduce BMI and insulin resistance. For this reason, people with PCOS might choose to focus on high intensity interval training, an intermittent style of training in which you push your body for 20-30 seconds and rest for 60-90. A great variation on this, if you have access to gym classes or a barbell, is BODYPUMP which combines aerobic exercise with strength training.
Any type of exercise is great for managing weight and symptoms PCOS! If you want to go for something more relaxed, why not try swimming?
It’s important to recognise that PCOS is as much an emotional condition as it is a physical one. In fact, people with PCOS are 3x more likely to be diagnosed with depression and/or anxiety. Whether this is due to hormonal factors is unknown, but what is known for sure is that using CBT, or Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, to treat PCOS not only boosts weight loss, but overall quality of life.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy focuses on reprogramming the brain to change the negative thoughts that can worsen emotional difficulties and physical stress. Our specialists offer 1:1 CBT sessions in the Syrona app.
Track Your Symptoms & Connect With Others:
Having a place to track your symptoms is key when managing PCOS. Through insights on your cycle and your symptoms as well as guidance from experts in the app, Syrona allows you to keep a close eye on your PCOS without it running your life!
When it comes to the question of how to manage PCOS, setting up a support system is also key. If the space in which you track your symptoms also exists as a community for people going through the same thing, PCOS becomes a whole lot easier to deal with.