Women's Health Sep 20, 2022

Keeping Your Polycystic Ovary Syndrome Symptoms at Bay

UT Health Austin obstetrician-gynecologist shares tips for symptom management

Reviewed by: Karla Maguire, MD, MPH
Written by: Lauren Schneider

A woman is sitting on a bench wearing a bike helmet and holding a water bottle. Her bright green road bike is blurry in the foreground.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates up to 12% of reproductive-age women are affected by polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) nationwide. PCOS is a hormonal condition characterized by enlarged ovaries that produce an elevated amount of male sex hormones (androgens).

Symptoms of PCOS may include:

  • Amenorrhea (lack of menses)
  • Hirsutism (acne and excessive body hair)
  • Infertility
  • Irregular period (cycle shorter than 21 days or longer than 35 days)
  • Weight gain

    “Like with many conditions, lifestyle plays a crucial role when it comes to PCOS management,” says UT Health Austin obstetrician-gynecologist Karla Maguire, MD, in Women’s Health, a clinical partnership between UT Health Austin and Ascension Seton. “Incorporating certain lifestyle changes can be instrumental in effectively managing PCOS.”

    Maintaining a Healthy Weight

    Weight loss is a useful strategy for preventing the effects of hormonal imbalance and insulin resistance. “Even small amounts of weight loss, such as 5 to 10% of your body weight, can alleviate symptoms, restore ovulation, and enhance the likelihood of achieving pregnancy if that is your goal,” explains Dr. Maguire.

    Establishing a Consistent Exercise Routine

    Exercise is also believed to have intrinsic benefits in alleviating PCOS symptoms, and the CDC recommends that adults aim for 150 minutes of physical activity each week. “The best exercise regimen for PCOS is one you will stick with,” notes Dr. Maguire. “Anything that you find fun or will constantly engage in is the best activity to choose.”

    Monitoring Your Sugar Intake

    Blood sugar regulation is crucial for PCOS because many people with the condition are resistant to insulin. Normally, insulin regulates blood sugar levels by transporting glucose from the bloodstream into cells. When cells stop responding to this insulin, it is referred to as insulin resistance. Insulin resistance is linked to some of the most common comorbidities of PCOS, including obesity, cardiovascular disease, and type 2 diabetes.

    “There is no one diet that has been proven in studies to work best for PCOS,” shares Dr. Maguire. “However, monitoring your carbohydrate intake can help regulate and control your blood sugar levels.”

    Considering the Benefits of Oral Contraceptive Treatment

    People with irregular periods caused by PCOS are still exposed to estrogen despite the hormonal imbalances associated with the condition. The resulting buildup of endometrial lining can lead to endometrial hyperplasia, a known precursor of endometrial cancer. “We really want patients with PCOS to have at least four periods a year,” explains Dr. Maguire.

    Hormonal birth control can prevent complications in patients who do not wish to become pregnant by regulating the menstrual cycle. It can also help address PCOS symptoms that do not respond to diet and exercise. “Think of birth control pills as a treatment for your condition rather than just a means of restoring your period.”

    For more information or to request an appointment with Women’s Health, visit here.

    About the Partnership Between UT Health Austin and Ascension Seton

    The collaboration between UT Health Austin and Ascension brings together medical professionals, medical school learners, and researchers who are all part of the integrated mission of transforming healthcare delivery and redesigning the academic health environment to better serve society. This collaboration allows highly specialized providers who are at the forefront of the latest research, diagnostic, and technological developments to build an integrated system of care that is a collaborative resource for clinicians and their patients.

    About UT Health Austin

    UT Health Austin is the clinical practice of the Dell Medical School at The University of Texas at Austin. We collaborate with our colleagues at the Dell Medical School and The University of Texas at Austin to utilize the latest research, diagnostic, and treatment techniques, allowing us to provide patients with an unparalleled quality of care. Our experienced healthcare professionals deliver personalized, whole-person care of uncompromising quality and treat each patient as an individual with unique circumstances, priorities, and beliefs. Working directly with you, your care team creates an individualized care plan to help you reach the goals that matter most to you — in the care room and beyond. For more information, call us at 1-833-UT-CARES or request an appointment here.