Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is well known as one of leading causes of infertility in women. PCOS is also well known to cause many women to struggle with their weight. But here’s the good news – symptoms of PCOS can be managed with medication and lifestyle improvements such as, well, managing your weight. Now that’s a tough little catch, isn’t it?
But all hope is not lost, according to
Lindsay Wardle, DO, an OB/GYN with
The Christ Hospital Physicians – Obstetrics & Gynecology. She says there are ways for women to overcome the challenges of PCOS and weight loss, but it helps to know more about the condition and how it impacts women.
PCOS, Infertility and Other Health Concerns
PCOS is an imbalance of reproductive hormones that impacts one out of ten women of childbearing age in the U.S., according to the
U.S. Department of Health & Human Services Office on Women’s Health. It interferes with the ovaries’ ability to produce and release eggs, often making it difficult for women to get pregnant. Infertility is the most notable concern, but studies have found links to other health problems, as well, including:
High Blood Pressure
Depression and anxiety
Symptoms and treatment of PCOS
There’s technically no cure for PCOS, but you can manage the symptoms through medication and a healthy lifestyle. For example, the drug Metformin, often used in treating type 2 diabetes, can help women’s bodies regulate blood sugar and lower both insulin and androgen levels. Anti-androgen medicines and hormonal birth control can also help manage and often mask certain symptoms.
“Many women don’t notice their symptoms until they quit birth control in an attempt to get pregnant,” Dr. Wardle says. “The most common symptoms are irregular menstrual cycles, infertility, excessive body and facial hair, and of course, there’s the struggle with weight. Though 20 percent of women with PCOS don’t experience any issue with their weight.”
Dr. Wardle says a lot of women who come to her with infertility and weight concerns already suspect PCOS. Though she points out that symptoms can be common for other conditions, as well, so it’s important to talk to your doctor about it so they can start the workup to determine if it’s PCOS or something else.
The Importance of Controlling Your Weight with PCOS
How effective is weight loss in the treatment of PCOS? Very effective, actually. The OWH states that for women who are overweight, even a 10 percent loss in body weight can help regulate menstrual cycles and improve your chances of getting pregnant. But how do you achieve that level of weight loss when, as Dr. Wardle reminds us, weight gain is one of the leading symptoms to begin with?
“It can be a struggle,” she says. “When you have PCOS, your body doesn’t use glucose properly, which makes dieting especially tough because you feel hungrier than normal.”
The Best Weight Loss Strategy? Yours!
So, how do you lose weight with PCOS? Dr. Wardle urges women to take a healthy and sustainable approach to long-term success.
“Obesity and being overweight are not ideal,” she says. “A lot of women focus on that size six or size eight or whatever, but it’s really about feeling good in your body and feeling confident. That should be the focus and if you want to succeed.”
With so many diets out there, choosing one that works with PCOS can be tough. Dr. Wardle says women with PCOS should focus on one in particular – the one that works for them.
“I tell my patients to go with a diet they can sustain,” she says. “There are so many options, but it’s most important to use a diet that can be healthy for you for a long time. I tell them, ‘Don’t just try the latest crash diet. Pay attention to your body. It will tell you if it’s not right for you.”
Diet’s only one part of the answer for women with PCOS.
“Exercise is just as important,” Dr. Wardle says. “It can help you in more ways than just a number,” she says. “It helps with stress levels and depression. It helps you feel better physically and gives you more confidence. It even helps maintain bone health as you get older. ”
What’s the best exercise for women with PCOS? Dr. Wardle’s answer may sound familiar.
“It comes down to what works best and what is sustainable for you,” she says. “And it’s important to remember that It’s not all or nothing. The important thing is to get moving and go from there. Even the smallest steps can lead to bigger steps and long-term success.”
The importance of knowing your body
Whether it’s managing PCOS, dealing with infertility, struggling with weight, or any health concerns for women, Dr. Wardle says it’s important to know your body and pay attention to what it’s telling you. She offers these tips to women to empower them to know what’s happening and to help with early detection of PCOS and other concerns:
Track your periods: “It’s one of the best guides we have to know if our bodies are healthy or not,” she says. “If you notice you are going 45 to 60 days without a period, it’s important to ask what’s going on with that. There are some good mobile apps out there to make it easier for you to track.”
Pay attention to other factors: “Occasional breaks or changes in your cycle can happen, even if nothing is wrong,” she says. “Travel, stress and even aging can impact it. That’s why it’s important to track regularly so you can tell if something is really off.”
Ask questions: “Understanding is important to long-term progress, whether you’re trying to conceive with PCOS, or manage any health condition,” she says. “If you don’t understand what’s happening or what your doctor is telling you, don’t be afraid to ask questions until you understand.”
Pass on your knowledge: “The younger you develop good habits, the easier it is to maintain them,” she says. “So, if you’re a parent of young girls approaching adolescence, teach them about their bodies and their cycle. Learning about their bodies can only be good for them.”
Click below to listen to Dr. Wardle talk about PCOS and women's health on the Pound This Podcast with Amanda Valentine.