Female reproductive health concept. Woman hand holding uterus shape made frome paper on pink background. Awareness of uterus illness such as endometriosis, PCOS, STDs or gynecologic cancer.

PCOS Symptoms and How to Treat Them: An Overview

“It’s not enough that I have polycystic ovarian syndrome, but I also get a whole host of nagging symptoms, too?” We hear you. But hear us out, too. PCOS does have its fair share of symptoms, ranging from virtually nonexistent to OMG, why is this happening? But with that said, there is relief out there.

Most of the symptoms of PCOS are caused by a hormonal imbalance: too many male hormones, or androgens, and not enough female hormones, or estrogens. The best way to test for this lopsided hormone dance, of course, is to do a blood test. We know, “Ugh, blood tests.” But here’s the best part: A little blood work goes a long way, meaning that while the test can reveal irregular amounts of androgen, it can also help rule out other conditions with similar symptoms, like congenital adrenal hyperplasia or Cushing’s disease. The old process of elimination, eh? We digress.

As for treatments, while there are many, they each come with their own set of pros and cons, and can range from relatively no big deal to really rather invasive. This is where a candid chat with your doctor or physician will come in handy—as well as a little trial and error. Find the solution that works best for you and stick with it. Because you know what they say about consistency: She gets results. But, again, we digress. Ahead, a quick and dirty list of the most and less common symptoms of PCOS, and ways to treat them.

Menstrual Irregularities

Missed, infrequent, or prolonged periods. Also very light flows or very heavy flows.

Treatment: Hormonal birth control, including the skin patch and pill

Ovarian Cysts

Enlarged ovaries can host follicles that surround the eggs, causing ovary dysfunction.

Treatment: Hormonal birth control, surgery if necessary

High Androgen Levels

Androgens are male hormones, like testosterone, and are made in excess with PCOS.

Treatment: Combination birth control pills, anti-androgen or insulin-reducing drugs, targetted dietary interventions and supplements

Acne

Acne is a side effect of the excess androgens.

Treatment: Over-the-counter products, potent dermatologist-suggested prescriptions, ruling out allergies and intolerances

Hair Loss

Excess male hormones can lead to thinning hair, or female androgenic alopecia (FAGA).

Treatment: hormone-regulating medications (like birth control), Rogaine, hair transplants

Hirsutism

Facial and body hair growth, as a result of the elevated male hormones.

Treatment: Simple shaving or waxing, electrolysis, laser hair removal, hormone-regulating meds

Weight Gain

Weight gain is a symptom for many with the condition, as PCOS, perhaps due to insulin resistance, causes weight increase irrespective of dietary intake.

Treatment: A doctor- or dietician-approved diet and lifestyle, insulin-regulating medication (like metformin)*

Difficulty Losing Weight

Hormonal imbalances and insulin resistance may make losing weight a challenge.

Treatment: A doctor- or dietician-approved diet and lifestyle, insulin-regulating medication (like metformin)*

*A dietician’s goal for treatment is to improve dietary habits and symptoms of the condition, which may in turn impact weight. However, a dietician should never outline a specific weight loss goal (it’s not constructivce or realistic). 

Fertility Issues

With ovulation disrupted, getting pregnant can be difficult, and can even lead to infertility in women.

Treatment: Fertility medications, supplements such as inositol are clinically proven to improve fertility, egg quality, and more

Skin Tags

Though less common, skin tags can be some of the first signs of insulin resistance or uncontrolled blood sugars, and can form usually in the armpit, neck, and groin areas.

Treatment: Professional procedures include freezing, cautery, and surgical removal

Dark Skin Patches

Often occurring with skin tags, dark patches can also form in the armpit, neck, and groin areas.

Treatment: Diet, exercise, and supplements; topical retinoids, dermabrasion, laser therapy

Migraines

Though not directly linked to PCOS, research shows that people living with migraines may also be living with insulin resistance, one of the keystones to PCOS.

Treatment: Headache medications and some supplements, avoiding headache triggers (like alcohol), staying hydrated with enough water and electrolytes throughout the day, further lifestyle changes

Fatigue

Feeling super sluggish can be attributed to iron deficiencies (as with heavy periods) or thyroid disorders.

Treatment: Lifestyle changes (like avoiding caffeine at night and eating/nourishing one’s body more regularly throughout the day), regular exercise, prescribed medication