Treatments for Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)

Polycystic ovary syndrome, or PCOS, will affect 1 in every 10 cisgender women. Here a few facts about PCOS and possible treatments for the condition.

What is PCOS?

Polycystic ovary syndrome is caused by a hormonal imbalance that can occur in childbearing women at any time.

Symptoms

  • Increased hair growth
  • Acne
  • Easy weight gain
  • Irregular menstrual cycles
  • Excess skin tabs in areas like the armpit or neck
  • Hair loss on the scalp
  • Darkening of the skin

Complications

Polycystic ovary syndrome can cause or increase the risk for:

  • Infertility
  • Hearth disease
  • Stroke
  • Obesity
  • Diabetes
  • High blood pressure (hypertension)
  • High cholesterol
  • Sleep apnea
  • Cancer
  • Depression
  • Anxiety

PCOS Treatment and Management Options

Clearly, PCOS is nothing to just ignore, especially if you intend on trying to become pregnant someday. Luckily, there are a few treatments available to treat PCOS, including the following...

1. Weight Loss

Many PCOS treatments focus on managing the symptoms for the condition. One of those treatments is weight loss. Why? Because your weight is likely going to be influenced by the condition.

Why Weight Loss Might Help

Besides keeping you at a lower risk of many other conditions, your weight may also influence if you develop PCOS or not. More than that, if you are overweight and develop PCOS, then your health can deteriorate faster than if you were of a healthy weight. Specifically, your high blood pressure or high cholesterol may skyrocket as a result.

Closely related to this treatment plan is the following method of managing PCOS...

2. Exercising

In an effort to keep you fit and healthy, doctors might also recommend that you exercise more frequently. The goal is to keep your weight within the healthy parameters.

Why Exercising May Help

However, exercise is beneficial for those dealing with PCOS beyond just weight loss. Exercising can also help normalize your hormones and reduce your risks of other complications.

Any exercise is good exercise (done with proper technique and without overextending yourself). Some ideas to get moving include:

  • Walks
  • Jogging
  • Cycling
  • Hiking
  • Yoga
  • Swimming
  • Dancing

3. Hormonal Birth Control

Hormonal contraceptives may help you manage PCOS. Options include:

  • Shots
  • Vaginal rings
  • Patches
  • Pills

Why Birth Control Pills May Help

The Short Answer

PCOS is effectively caused by hormonal imbalances. Hormonal contraceptives may help re-balance your hormones.

The Long Answer

Birth control pills introduce synthetic versions of estrogen and progesterone (progestin) to the body. Importantly, these hormones play key roles in regulating the menstrual cycle.

When your body ovulates (releases an egg), it produces androgen. This hormone limits or halts the production of estrogen. Androgen allows for the egg to pass through the Fallopian tubes for fertilization. Androgen is also a key player in hair growth, deepening of the voice, and acne.

PCOS treatment may therefore involve suppressing androgen; having more estrogen and progesterone can help with that.

Other Benefits

As a result, you'll have less of a risk of developing endometrial cancer, fight off excessive acne and hair growth, and stop abnormal bleeding. You might also experience other benefits like improved mood, sex drive, and skin clarity.

4. Progestin Therapy

Why Progestin Therapy May Help

By taking progestin therapy for 10 days or two weeks, you can fight off PCOS and treat its symptoms. You'll need to undergo the therapy every two months.

The therapy helps regulate your hormones and periods. It can also help fight off the development of endometrial cancer.

This therapy doesn't contain androgen, which is why it doesn't prevent pregnancy on its own. Instead, it just enters progestin into the body. With progestin in the system, the body's hormonal imbalance is corrected, and the patient will find relief from their PCOS symptoms.

5. Clomid

Clomiphene/clomifene, or Clomid, is an oral medication that help treat PCOS. It's taken during the part of the menstrual cycle when bleeding starts.

Why Clomid May Help

When you suffer from PCOS, you don't ovulate normally—if you ovulate at all. Clomid is an anti-estrogen medication that can help you ovulate regularly.

Sometimes you may need to take a secondary medication like Provera (medroxyprogesterone) to induce a period. This method is primarily used for women who are trying to become pregnant while suffering from polycystic ovary syndrome.

When is it Taken?

Clomid is taken for five days and can be taken at any time during the day. If you do not start ovulating after the treatment period is over, then you may be given a higher dosage of Clomid.

6. Letrozole

Letrozole, or Femara, is typically used to help treat breast cancer. However, some have found that Femara works even better than Clomid when it comes to managing PCOS. It may be the most effective for women with a higher body-mass index (BMI).

Why Femara May Help

While Clomid works to block estrogen receptors in the body, Femara functions to stop estrogen from being produced entirely.

Other Side Effects

Femara also results in a greater chance of pregnancy than Clomid. For those who want to become pregnant while suffering from PCOS, trying Femara may be one of the best first options.

7. Metformin

Diabetes drugs like metformin (Glucophage, Fortamet) may also help treat PCOS. This prescription is often used in PCOS patients who develop diabetes or are pre-diabetic.

Why Metformin May Help

One of the complications that may arise from having PCOS is diabetes, as PCOS hormonal imbalances can also mess with your insulin levels. Taking a medication designed to help regulate insulin levels can therefore also help regulate PCOS.

This medication is typically prescribed along with Clomid.

Other Benefits

It has also been shown to help lower cholesterol. Since it has such a strong influence on the hormonal system, women may find that their metabolism is stimulated. This side effect can further help lower weight gain and allow them to feel energized enough to work out and keep themselves fit.

8. Gonadotropins

Gonadotropins are naturally-produced hormones from the pituitary gland; they influence the reproductive system.

Who Will this Treatment Work For?

Gonadotropin injections may be suggested by your doctor if Clomid doesn't help.

Why Gonadotropins May Help

Injecting gonadotropins can correct hormonal imbalances by stimulating the reproductive cycle directly.

Caution

The problem with gonadotropin injections is that this stimulation can also cause ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome, which can become life-threatening.

However, when used carefully and slowly—along with Clomid—it can help women ovulate. The right doctor can help lower the risk of multiple births and miscarriages.

9. Aldactone

One particularly unfortunate PCOS symptom? Excessive hair growth on the chest, face, under the arms, and along the legs. Aldactone (spironolactone) may be prescribed to help alleviate PCOS symptoms including excessive hair growth and acne.

Ideal Patient

Because developing high blood pressure is a complication of PCOS, some doctors may choose to give their patients Aldactone to help lower the risk of developing high blood pressure. It's also given to those who tend to "swell" from excessive fluid in their bodies.

Why Aldactone May Help

Aldactone works to lower production of androgen levels. One androgen that many people may know is testosterone. Cisgender men naturally have higher levels of androgen than cisgender women do, which leads to greater hair growth.

However, thanks to PCOS, women may find that excessive androgen levels can cause unpleasant complications like acne and excessive hair growth.

By taking Aldactone, women can suppress androgen levels and cut down on the spread of unwanted hair growth and acne.

Caution

This drug should be used with others for those who are trying to become pregnant because it can negatively impact the pregnancy.

10. Vaniqa

Vaniqa (eflornithine) may also help those struggling with unwanted excessive facial hair.

Why Vaniqa May Help

A topical (on-skin) cream, Vaniqa can effectively slow down the growth of hair in unwanted areas. It's simple to use. Patients use the prescribed amount of the cream and rub it evenly over the area that is troubling them. Over time, the chemicals in the cream help to inhibit the growth of the hair in that area.

Vaniqa won't help with other complications of polycystic ovary syndrome. However, it can help PCOS sufferers feel more confident about their bodies and ease depression and anxiety.

11. Limiting Carbohydrates

PCOS sufferers may also want to limit the number of carbohydrates that they consume.

Why Limiting Carbohydrates May Help

Limiting low-fat and high-carbohydrate meals can help control your insulin levels. Specifically, diets low in fat and high in carbs can increase insulin levels and further help the development of diabetes and other conditions like PCOS.

Instead, eat complex carbs to regulate blood sugar (glucose) levels.

What's Next?

What's important for people who have PCOS (or think they do) to know most of all?...

Final Thoughts

Left untreated, PCOS could negatively impact your overall health and potentially lead to life-threatening conditions like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes.

Fortunately, there are treatments available.

Speak with your doctor to determine if you have PCOS. Then, see if any of the treatments listed above can help treat your symptoms. With time, you may see your symptoms improve.

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