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Complete guide to coping with PCOS symptoms

PCOS symptoms may include reproductive, metabolic and psychological issues. Read on to discover how to deal with this common hormonal disorder.

PCOS can be a distressing experience. However, with the right education, support and treatment you can manage your PCOS symptoms and feel better.

No matter if you’ve been suffering from this condition for years – or have only recently been diagnosed – here you can find all helpful information on how to deal with PCOS symptoms.

A closer look at PCOS 

Many of the patients who come to euroCARE for fertility treatment are affected by PCOS. 

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a complex hormone disorder which impacts many aspects of a woman’s health and is often associated with:

  • Insulin resistance (inability of the cells to respond to insulin) and hyperinsulinemia (elevated insulin levels)
  • Elevated male hormones (also called androgens, such as testosterone) and excess hair on your body and face (hirsutism)
  • Ovarian cysts (which are fluid-filled sacs in the ovary or on its surface)
  • Irregular or prolonged menstrual periods

PCOS and other health problems

Besides the common symptoms, PCOS may increase the risk of other health conditions, like:

  • Diabetes
  • High LDL (bad) cholesterol 
  • Sleep apnoea (momentary and repeated stops in breathing during sleep)
  • Overweight or obesity
  • Heart disease
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Endometrial (uterine) cancer

How is PCOS treated?

Although there is no cure for PCOS, we at euroCARE IVF encourage patients to explore different ways to eliminate or reduce their symptoms of PCOS. The treatment approach will depend on your symptoms, plans for having children, as well as risks of long-term health problems (such as diabetes and heart disease). Based on these (and other) factors, your treatment plan may include multiple approaches, including:

  • Self-care
  • Medication
  • Assisted reproductive treatment

How to treat PCOS naturally?

There are multiple ways you can relieve your PCOS symptoms. Before making any significant lifestyle or diet changes, please consult your doctor for further guidance. 

Here are some of the things you can do to promote better health:

Reduce bodyweight

Losing weight can improve the response of your body to insulin (called insulin sensitivity), help to balance hormone levels, and increase your quality of life. Although at first it may look overwhelming, we tell patients that even a 5-10% reduction in body weight (for example, a 70-kg woman losing 7 kg) may bring your hormones and menstrual cycle back to normal. 

Here are some simple changes that can help you lose and maintain a healthy weight — without going on a diet:

  • Eat breakfast every day (e.g. whole-grain cereals, smoothy, 2-3 eggs, nuts, peanut butter, banana, yoghurt) 
  • Avoid late-night or mindless snacking while watching television (have a cup of tea, enjoy a small bowl of light ice cream or frozen yoghurt)
  • Drink plenty of water (additional liquids include sparkling water with citrus, skim or low-fat milk, small portions of 100% natural fruit juice, low-calorie vegetable juice)
  • Eat lots of low-calorie fruits (like strawberries, blueberries, raspberries) and vegetables (e.g. spinach, artichokes, kale, a bowl of broth-based soup)
  • Replace refined grains (like white bread, cakes, cookies and pretzels) with whole grains (such as whole oats, whole wheat, quinoa, brown rice)
  • Optimise your space for weight loss (stock your kitchen with healthy food, choose wisely restaurants, eat a healthy snack before parties to resists buffet temptations) 
  • Reduce your portions by 10%-20% (use small bowls, plates and cups instead)
  • Add more protein to your diet (e.g. lean meats like chicken and fish, low-fat yoghurt, small portions of nuts, peanut butter, eggs, beans, tofu). 
  • Eat small, frequent meals and snacks throughout the day (every 3-4 hours) to keep your blood sugar at a constant level 

Improve gut health

Good gut health will help you get all the nutrients from your food and improve your hormone levels. Our medical team at euroCARE IVF encourages patients to follow these tips to ensure a healthy gut:

  • Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables
  • Eat fermented food (e.g. yoghurt, kefir, tempeh)
  • Consume prebiotic foods (such as whole grains, bananas, greens, onions, garlic, soybeans and artichokes) 
  • Take probiotic supplements
  • Avoid packaged food with numbers on the back — instead, eat whole foods (which are unprocessed and unrefined as well as free from additives or other artificial substances)
  • Eat food rich in polyphenols (like cocoa, dark chocolate, green tea, almonds, blueberries and broccoli)

Eliminate inflammatory foods 

A healthy PCOS diet is not only what you eat but also what foods you avoid. Our euroCARE IVF fertility specialists advise PCOS patients to avoid foods which can cause prolonged inflammation in the body. These include:

  • Refined carbs (sugar, corn syrup, white bread, pizza dough, pasta, pastries, white flour, white rice, many breakfast cereals)
  • Gluten (e.g. pastas, breads, crackers, wheat starch, wheat bran, wheat germ, couscous, durum, faro, graham flour, kamut, matzo, semolina, spelt, barley, bulgur, contaminated oats, rye, seitan, some seasonings and spice mixes)
  • Dairy products (like milk, paneer, cheese and butter)
  • Artificial trans fats (also called partially hydrogenated oils, commonly found in crackers, cookies, cakes, frozen pies, frozen pizza, microwave popcorn, fast food, margarines, coffee creamer, refrigerated dough products like biscuits and cinnamon rolls, ready-to-use frostings)
  • Avoid alcohol (having occasionally a glass of dry red or white wine or distilled alcohol with a non-caloric mixer like club soda is considered being safe) 
  • Processed meat (such as hot dogs, sausages and luncheon meats)
  • Increased use of vegetable and seed oils (which may distort the omega-6 to omega-3 ratio)

Our IVF specialists suggest that you eat 8 ounces (231 grams) of vegetables or up to a combined 18 ounces (500 grams) of fruits and vegetables per day. This will provide your body with nutrients and antioxidants as well as with vitamins and minerals which promote normal brain function and normal menstruation.

Improve liver function

With excess androgens (male hormones) in your body, the risk of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease is twofold for PCOS patients than for people without PCOS.

The good news is that you take simple steps to improve your liver function and avoid liver damage. The euroCARE IVF team recommends drinking lemon water or apple cider vinegar in the morning to help the liver detoxify. 

In addition, drink plenty of water throughout the day and end the day with a probiotic. To calculate how much water you should drink daily, use the following formula: 0.037ml/kg of body weight. If you’re training or doing a workout, make sure you drink 500mls of water before and after training along with frequent sips during activity.

Exercise

Exercise 50-60 mins per day to manage your weight and relieve PCOS symptoms. Light-to-moderate exercises, like brisk walking, jogging, cycling or swimming are best for women affected by PCOS. Synergistic training (mobility, stability and strength), pilates and yoga are also great activities for the management of PCOS. 

Refrain from strenuous activities (e.g. swimming laps, aerobics, running, jogging, basketball, cycling on hills) or intense workouts (like weight training), especially if your period is lacking. 

Another great exercising option is making around 10,000 steps per day. You don’t have to go out to reach your target — you can walk while you talk on the phone or march in place during television commercials. 

Reduce belly

High levels of insulin cause the ovaries to produce more testosterone, which can cause body hair growth, acne, irregular periods and weight gain. This hormonal imbalance along with high cortisol and insulin resistance may cause more fat to be stored around the waist.

Along with a PCOS friendly diet, make sure you follow a workout regime that will balance your hormones and burn fat faster. You may benefit from cardio, strength and core exercises along with an appropriate HIIT (high-intensity interval training) workout. Please consult your doctor or a fitness professional to make the best choice of workout for your condition.

Sleep enough hours

Make sure you get an 8-hour quality sleep every day. Build a better bedtime routine by avoiding using technology two hours before going to bed. Instead, do some meditation or have a hot bath to help you unwind and get you ready for sleep. 

Maintaining good mental health

Depression and anxiety are common and often overlooked symptoms of PCOS. Other potential issues may be an obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), bipolar disorder and eating disorders. 

One key to managing PCOS successfully is being aware of your mood and the effects it can have on different areas of your life. We encourage you to monitor your own emotional health by frequently asking yourself questions about your emotional state (e.g. feeling down, depressed or hopeless, losing interest in doing things, worrying a lot about your looks, feeling guilty about excessive eating)

If you answer yes to any of these questions, we advise you to seek help from a health professional. There are many treatments for people struggling with mental health issues. While some benefit from just a few sessions of counselling, you may benefit from ongoing counselling or therapy.

Online blogs, forums and online specialist consultations are another great way to get active support on your self-healing journey.

Medications and supplements

Birth control

Birth control is the most common and effective treatment for PCOS if you don’t want to get pregnant. Hormonal birth control in the form of pills, skin patch, vaginal ring, shots or a hormonal IUD (intrauterine device) can help induce ovulation, treat acne and unwanted hair growth, and lower your chance of endometrial cancer (cancer in the uterus’s lining).

Birth control pills containing the hormone progestin could help get your periods back on track, but they do not prevent pregnancies or treat unwanted hair growth and acne. However, they can decrease the chance of uterine cancer.

Metformin

Metformin can help prevent type 2 diabetes by lowering insulin levels in the blood. It also helps to regulate ovulation and menstrual cycles, thus improving your fertility.

Clomiphene

Clomiphene (sometimes used in combination with metformin) is another common treatment for women with PCOS. This medicine is used to stimulate egg development and trigger ovulation.

Letrozole

Letrozole is a cancer drug that may be used to induce ovulation in clomiphene-resistant PCOS patients. 

Gonadotropins

Gonadotropin therapy is recommended when any of the previous drugs were not effective. Gonadotropins are injectable drugs containing follicle-stimulating hormones (FSH) or a combination of FSH and luteinizing hormone (LH) which stimulate the production of eggs. They are used alone or in combination with other treatments like IUI or IVF.

Drugs for treating mental issues

Antidepressants or anti-anxiety medication may be prescribed in the same way they would be to people without PCOS. 

In addition, our IVF specialists recommend taking omega-3 fatty acid from fish oil alone or in combination with Vitamin D. Please talk with a doctor before using any supplements.

Complementary therapies

Acupuncture and mindfulness 30 minutes a day can improve the emotional health and overall well-being of people with PCOS. Yoga, guided relaxation, breathing exercises and meditation are other great ways to reduce stress and tackle PCOS-related mental issues. 

Dealing with infertility

If you could not conceive after a year of trying, reaching out to a fertility specialist is your first step. Through proper evaluation, education and support, you’ll get a personalised treatment plan that will give you the best chance of conceiving.

IVF

In vitro fertilisation (IVF) is an assisted reproductive procedure that achieves conception outside the female body (in vitro). Our fertility team will recommend IVF if the previous treatment options did not produce the desired outcome.

IVF involves stimulating the ovaries to produce more eggs using fertility drugs, followed by egg retrieval, ICSI (intracytoplasmic sperm injection) fertilisation of mature eggs with sperm and embryo transfer. 

Egg donation

IVF with donor eggs is rarely used for women with PCOS, as this group of patients has a high ovarian reserve (egg count). However, women of advanced age, as well as women with previous surgeries that damaged the ovaries, may benefit from using donor eggs to conceive.

Avoiding PCOS-related pregnancy complications

You can lower your risk of complications during pregnancy by:

  • Reach a healthy weight before you get pregnant
  • Reach and maintain healthy blood sugar levels before and during pregnancy
  • Take folic acid (the right amount will depend on your medical situation)
  • Prenatal care (regular checkups)

Get the right support and medical care for your PCOS condition!

PCOS may affect your reproductive, metabolic and psychological health. If you, or someone you know, suffers from PCOS or suspects that they might, seek professional advice from a medical professional. 

If you have problems getting pregnant because of PCOS, schedule a free online video consultation with the euroCARE IVF specialist team, and together create a solid plan for treating your infertility and completing your family alternatively.

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