So your doctor told you that you have Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (formerly known as Polycystic Ovarian Disease). PCOS is a group of symptoms that occurs due to a hormonal imbalance in women. It happens to be very common across the world and affects 1 in 10 Indian women! While there is no complete cure for PCOS, it can be effectively managed with medications and lifestyle changes.
Unfortunately, PCOS often goes untreated. Up to 70% of women do not get the right treatment until it is too late. Women as young as 25 years of age can develop obesity, diabetes and infertility if they don’t get the right treatment. So, the time to start making changes is now.
The main treatment options women in India have access to are:
- Modern medicine backed by scientific research and evidence
- Lifestyle-based natural changes
Alternative medicine with limited scientific research and unclear evidence
- Herbal supplements
In this article, we will review the first category of treatments. Allopathic medicine and long-term lifestyle changes are well-researched, science-based treatments that have shown success in millions of women. Read our second article for more information on alternative therapies.
These include medications that are prescribed by your gynaecologist, endocrinologist or GP doctor. Women can report seeing a relapse in their symptoms once they finish their medicine course. This is because any medicine needs to be accompanied by long-term lifestyle changes to manage PCOS sustainably.
First-line treatment is usually oral contraceptives or a hormonal intrauterine device. The reason oral contraceptives are recommended is because they are hormone-regulating medicines. They help regulate your period, reduce acne, and reduce your risk of endometrial cancer.
Often, a medication called Metformin is also prescribed to help with weight loss, insulin resistance (related to your risk of diabetes) and restoring regular menstrual cycles. A range of fertility medications is also available to help you get pregnant. However, it’s important to remember that not all women with PCOS are infertile.
For acne and unwanted facial hair, you may need to take anti-acne and anti-androgen medications, although the hormone regulation aspect of oral contraceptives is fantastic at controlling acne. To regulate mood disorders that are often associated with PCOS, psychiatrists may even prescribe anti-depressants.
Many PCOS symptoms can be managed through lifestyle changes such as healthy eating, regular exercise and reducing stress levels. Changing your diet can help with weight loss as well as acne, hair loss, bloating and even mood swings.
If weight gain is a symptom of your PCOS condition, doctors often recommend weight loss as the first step to managing PCOS. A 15% loss in weight can often regulate menstrual cycles naturally and reduce the risk of insulin resistance and metabolic disorders like diabetes by more than 50%! Even if you have lean PCOS and do not need to lose weight, modifications in your diet, sleep and stress levels can do wonders for PCOS symptoms.
This is because most women with PCOS are insulin resistant – i.e., the body must produce more than a normal of insulin to move sugar from the blood into cells. These elevated levels of insulin can cause the ovaries to product too much testosterone, which prevents normal ovulation and increases symptoms like excess hair. Insulin resistance also causes weight gain, so it can become a cycle of gaining weight and insulin resistance increasing.
Healthy diets that include food with low glycemic index (foods that release less sugar into the blood stream), moderate amount of exercise, adequate sleep and stress management all work together to naturally reduce insulin resistance. They also aid in losing weight which has the advantage of reducing insulin resistance even further.
Lifestyle changes are, of course, easier said than done. Having a coach who can track your progress and keep you motivated through your journey is critical to being successful at adapting long-term lifestyle changes. Over time, you can also reduce reliance on medicines and manage PCOS naturally.
To sum up, there are different treatment approaches, and it’s not a one-size-fits-all solution.
Most of the treatments for PCOS address the individual symptoms, therefore, may require many specialists to address each concern. The best treatment combines advice from multiple specialists (nutritionist, dermatologist, gynaecologist, therapist) so you can tackle all symptoms together AND helps you adopt lifestyle practices to manage PCOS for the long-term.
To know more about a systematic, long-term approach to managing PCOS, book a free visit with a PCOS specialist.