Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), is a common disorder with a laundry list of unpleasant symptoms. Its cause is unknown, though there are some things we can do to improve our odds. Catching PCOS while it is still treatable is a matter of listening to our bodies and acknowledging that something is “off.” When we spot the imbalance, we can work to correct it to alleviate unpleasant symptoms and avoid long term complications. Stick with me in this longer post to learn more about PCOS and what you should know when approaching treatment.
PCOS Symptoms & Diagnosis
PCOS is an endocrine disorder, where hormones are produced in abnormal fluctuations, leading to irregularities throughout the body. Irregular menstruation is typically a first clue, but symptoms can also include:
- excessive hair growth on the face and other typically masculine areas,
- hair loss,
- weight gain or trouble losing weight,
- skin darkening and skin tags.
You might also notice something is off if your milk supply is low or you are struggling with infertility.
In other words, noticing symptoms of PCOS requires us to learn about our bodies and how they are meant to function. Menstruation should be a cycle, coming and going once every month. Hormones trigger the release of eggs during ovulation, which provides the eggs for pregnancy, in which case, progesterone would continue to sustain it. If pregnancy does not occur, estrogen would trigger a shedding of the uterine lining, which is menstruation.
In the case of PCOS, the imbalance of hormones prevents normal ovulation, which leaves ovaries swollen and functioning poorly. This is what leads to infertility for women with PCOS. It also contributes to irregular menstruation, which can be infrequent or excessive, and tend to be painful.
We women tend to deal with our discomforts rather than resolve them, but it’s important to recognize when abnormalities arise. Listen when your body is telling you it's out of balance, and take action.
Treatments for PCOS
Your doctor won’t have a single test to diagnose PCOS, but rather will gather all of your symptoms to create a picture of your health. Think through any possible symptoms and be sure to share with them. They’ll take them into consideration alongside other factors such as weight, blood pressure, hormone levels, concurrent conditions such as diabetes, and pelvic exams or ultrasounds.
Once PCOS is confirmed, you’ll need to consider a treatment path. It won’t go away on its own. In fact, left untreated, the symptoms will be likely to build into more problematic conditions. For example, while PCOS is not caused by diabetes and vice versa, the two are often connected as metabolic/endocrine disorders. With PCOS left unchecked, risks of diabetes and heart disease increase.
PCOS is a painful example of the importance of listening to our bodies and heeding their warnings.
If infertility has been a concern, a doctor will likely suggest a prescription of hormones to help pregnancy be possible in spite of the body’s misfiring. Other treatments that may be prescribed include birth control, other artificial hormones, and metformin to control diabetic tendencies.
While these treatments are sometimes necessary, there are also steps you can take to control symptoms at home. Working to lose weight is one of the biggest factors, thanks to the way fat stores and low exercise levels can affect hormone production. Massage is another excellent choice, as it not only helps to soothe and relax you during uncomfortable symptoms, but it stimulates the lymphatic system which is a close partner to the endocrine system.
Self care for other unwanted symptoms, such as the excessive hair growth, is also important to prioritize. Realize that you are not alone, and that there is no shame in either embracing or eliminating these secondary symptoms of PCOS. Just be sure that you are able to acknowledge the bigger condition and work toward whole-body-health.
Herbal Remedies for PCOS Symptoms
There are several herbs that we can turn to when PCOS is in the picture. Some of them address symptoms and relief only, while others work to return balance within the body. Herbal remedies for PCOS can usually be administered alongside the protocol your doctor has prescribed, but be sure to make them aware of the herbs you plan to use.
Vitex. One of the most incredible herbs for women’s health is vitex, also known as chaste tree. Often used for heavy, painful menstruation, vitex can also be used when menstruation is spaced out an irregular. That’s because it is a balancing herb, helping to correct both excesses and deficiencies.
Vitex can be found in my Fertile Ground formula, which can be taken not only when struggling with infertility but any time the menstrual cycle is out of balance. Certainly PCOS would qualify as such an imbalance.
Fenugreek. Another herb with a long tradition in women’s health is fenugreek, often used to increase breastmilk production. When PCOS has led to a low milk supply, taking fenugreek can help to provide balance where hormone production is failing. It may also have some effect on blood sugar, giving it another beneficial angle for treating PCOS symptoms.
Fenugreek can be found in my Let There Be Milk tincture.
Neither of these herbs should be used in pregnancy, though this tends to be a time when many PCOS symptoms are alleviated anyway.
PCOS is a frustrating, challenging disease. But it is also common, and the symptoms can be treated. Often, weight loss and nutrition lead to reduced symptoms and even lessening of the disease. Find others who are in your shoes, take one step at a time, and focus on wellness of both body and mind. As we so often discover, you aren’t alone!