How to Treat Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS)

Up to 10% of women are thought to have the hormonal imbalance known as Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS). It can cause irregular periods, female infertility, weight gain, acne, and excess body hair.  What is it?  Why is it important?  And how can you get rid of it? Read on to learn more.

Sanaz Majd, MD
Episode #156

What Are the Consequences of PCOS?

So, what does it mean to have PCOS? Women with PCOS have a greater propensity towards diabetes. It’s really important for them to exercise, eat right, and be at a normal healthy weight in order to prevent diabetes.

Women with PCOS may have a higher risk of endometrial cancer if they don’t have regular periods.

PCOS can also make it a little more difficult to get pregnant, but pregnancy is usually very achievable with the right treatments. 

Lastly, women with PCOS may have a higher risk of endometrial cancer if they don’t have regular periods. It’s important to have a period (but only if you are not on hormones) at least once every three months in order to allow the lining of your uterus to shed. If it doesn’t shed, cells can build up and place you at risk for cancer of the uterus later in life.

What Is the Treatment for PCOS?

There are many ways to treat PCOS. But the mainstay of treatment is really weight loss.  Here are two tips to self-treat your PCOS:

  1. Maintain a lower carbohydrate diet. Like diabetics, PCOS women don’t metabolize sugar and carbohydrates efficiently. So it's key to limit foods like bread, pasta, potatoes, rice, and sweets. You shouldn’t eliminate them altogether, but do try and keep a balanced diet that is not high in carbs. Check out Nutrition Diva's episodes on the Mediterranean Diet and other Low Carb Diets for more tips on how to go low carb without feeling hungry.

  2. Exercise: Studies have shown that getting regular cardiovascular exercise improves insulin resistance, thereby improving PCOS and causing weight loss. Exercise at least 30 minutes on most days of the week. If the treadmill isn't your cup of tea, try fast walking, running, biking, swimming, or any other fun physical activity that gets your heart racing.

With even a 10% weight loss, you’ll notice that your acne and body hair will improve, your periods will become more regular, your sugar levels will normalize, and you will be more likely to conceive (if that's something you're seeking to do).

Medications for PCOS

If the above methods are not sufficient, there are a few medical prescriptions to help women with PCOS:

  1. Hormonal contraceptives: If you are not trying to get pregnant, this will help you regulate your periods and improve your acne and abnormal hair growth.

  2. Metformin: This medication has been used to treat diabetics and is also FDA approved for women with PCOS. It helps with weight loss—as long as you are taking care of your diet and exercise--and it also helps women with PCOS ovulate and get pregnant. 

  3. Spironolactone: This is normally a blood pressure medication that also works to lower testosterone levels, thereby improving acne and excessive hair growth. However, women who are trying to get pregnant cannot take it due to potential harmful effects on the fetus.


Acne, sad woman, and glucose vegetables images courtesy of Shutterstock.


About the Author

Sanaz Majd, MD

Dr. Sanaz Majd, a board-certified Family Medicine physician who graduated from Drexel University College of Medicine in Philadelphia. She sees everything from pediatrics to geriatrics, but her special interests are women's health and patient education. She also loves to teach, and has been doing so since her college days.

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