PCOS self-care: top tips for managing unwanted symptoms
PCOS – you might have heard of it, but what exactly is it? Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS for short) is a hormonal condition that affects up to 1 in 10 people with ovaries in their reproductive years. It can come with a heap of pesky symptoms that affect your day-to-day life, potentially affecting things like your menstrual cycle, skin and hair.
PCOS is not talked about as much as we’d like it to be, so we’ve decided it’s time to lift the lid and share some of our top tips for managing your symptoms. A little PCOS self-care, if you will.
Why PCOS self-care is important
Self-care and compassion is important. Period. When you have PCOS, it is key to mitigating some of the symptoms that the syndrome throws your way.
Here are some of the most common ones:
- Irregular periods
- No periods (called amenorrhea or ‘amenorrhoea’)
- Excessive facial and/or body hair growth
- Scalp hair loss
- Weight struggles
- Mood changes (including anxiety and depression)
- Reduced fertility (related to less frequent or absent ovulation)
Dr Ashwini Gana Baskaran is the principal GP at Sanctuary Wellness & Medical Centre in Western Australia. She explains, “We know that PCOS is driven by hormone imbalance and insulin, but people with PCOS can present very differently and have different issues.
“Some people might have period issues, others might be affected by weight, fatigue or have skin issues.”
We won’t lie to you: while many PCOS symptoms can be managed, it isn’t something that will magically go away. But some PCOS self-care and lifestyle changes may help you get things under control.
“Self-care and lifestyle are very important,” Ashwini says. “A nutritious diet – like a Mediterranean diet with no processed sugar – preferably no alcohol, adequate hydration and exercise as tolerated are all good places to start.
“While there’s no right or wrong, there’s some evidence around intensity-based exercise for insulin resistance. But my go-to is always body movement – I usually focus on that.
“Sleep is also really important. Be sure to see a doctor if you’re experiencing sleep conditions like sleep apnea.”
Taking a closer look
Let’s take a closer look at 3 of the most common PCOS symptoms and the things that might help ease your discomfort.
When it comes to PCOS bloating, there tend to be 2 key factors involved: hormones and diet.
Hormones such as estrogen (or ‘oestrogen’) and progesterone impact fluid regulation, and an imbalance of these hormones can cause water retention. People with PCOS often have unusually low levels of progesterone, which may make them more vulnerable to water retention and bloating.
There are other reasons you might be feeling bloated. For example, some people feel bloated during ovulation. It’s worth investigating what might be causing it for you.
People with PCOS also often have an imbalance in their gut microbiome. An unhappy gut can lead to bloating, which could be caused by certain foods.
Understanding your bloating triggers can be a game changer. Check out our article for the nitty-gritty on PCOS-friendly diets.
If you’re getting PCOS bloating, Ashwini recommends seeing your doctor for blood tests. “Blood work is very important,” she says. “We need to understand what’s happening with your iron and B12 levels, and your thyroid.
“We might also have to assess your diet and try an elimination-based diet to see whether that will help your bloating.”
PCOS hair growth
PCOS can sometimes cause an abundance of facial and body hair, often in places we’d rather it wasn’t. Excessive hair growth can be a real confidence knock, but there may be ways to tame it.
Unusual hair growth is usually the result of excess androgens in your body. This may be why you’re dealing with hirsutism, the scientific term for excessive hair growth in places you’d rather not see it.
Lifestyle changes, including reducing sugar and exercising regularly, may help reduce your androgen levels and slow unwanted facial hair growth.
You may also find that medications like birth control help regulate your cycle and tackle PCOS hair in one go. But make sure to speak with your healthcare provider before taking any medication. They can guide you through your options and help you choose the best path forward.
Waking up feeling like you’ve run a marathon in your sleep? PCOS-related fatigue can be a real mood crusher. Hormonal imbalances like high cortisol and low progesterone, vitamin D deficiency and other nutrient deficiencies (like low iron, vitamin B complex and magnesium), and sleep disturbances like insomnia are all usual suspects.
The best approach? A healthy diet can also be your ally here. A nutritionist can help you create a tailored diet. And don’t forget to practise good sleep hygiene. Sleep is so important when it comes to managing your PCOS.
Ashwini recommends seeing your doctor for blood tests if you are experiencing PCOS fatigue.
“Blood work can help us understand what’s causing the fatigue,” she says. “We would look at whether you’re getting adequate nutrition in your diet, and also whether you’re sleeping, how you are with your sleep, and how your stress management is.
“All of these are drivers of fatigue.”
Getting the support and answers you need
Experiencing irregular periods? Nabbing a pair (or two) of Modibodi underwear can help you stress less. Instead of worrying about leaks, you’ll feel confident and comfy – our favourite duo.
Remember, if you’re struggling with PCOS symptoms or anything you’ve read here rings alarm bells, your doctor can help get you the answers and support you need.