Because of the many long-term health risks associated with PCOS, it is important to establish a good relationship with your health care provider and maintain appropriate counselling in order to reduce the risks as much as possible. Among the possible health concerns associated with PCOS, women with PCOS, in particular those that are overweight or obese, have a greater chance of developing high blood pressure, high cholesterol, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, endometrial hyperplasia, and endometrial cancer. However, there are a number of things you can do to reduce your risk.
Losing weight (for those who are overweight or obese) and maintaining a healthy weight is the single biggest thing women with PCOS can do to stay healthy. In addition to easing your PCOS symptoms, following a nutritious diet and exercising regularly will help you:
- Lower your chances of developing heart disease
- Decrease your cholesterol, triglyceride, and blood pressure levels
- Improve your ovulation and menstrual patterns
- Reduce your insulin sensitivity
- Lessen your chances of developing Type 2 diabetes
And you don’t need to lose a drastic amount of weight in order to notice the benefits. Stabilizing of hormonal levels and improved menstruation cycles can occur after losing just 5% of your total body weight. It is important to remember, though, that you are not looking to lose a large amount of weight quickly. Rather, it is better to incorporate good eating habits with regular exercise, making them a part of your daily routine and something you can follow for life. The changes to your diet don’t need to be radical; choosing to eat more carbohydrates with a low glycemic index, coupled with a reduced intake of fats and simple sugars, should be sufficient.
Altering when and how often you eat can also be helpful. Opting to eat more frequently throughout the day, having four to six smaller meals instead of three large ones, will contribute to you feeling full throughout the day and keep your blood sugar levels consistent. As a result, you’re less likely to deal with cravings and hunger pangs, which can lead to grabbing a “quick bite” that is typically unhealthy.
But it’s not just your physical symptoms of PCOS that weight loss and dietary changes can help. These changes are also likely to have a positive affect on any emotional issues you may have, including depression, poor body image, and feeling as though you have a lack of control over your body.
Due to the lack of periods often experienced by women with PCOS, the risk of endometrial hyperplasia (the presence of pre-cancerous cells on the uterine lining) and endometrial cancer is noticeably higher. PCOS sufferers that experience absent or irregular periods can lower their risk by having at least six periods a year.
In women under the age of 35, it is common to prescribe the birth control pill. This contributes to regulating hormones and inducing a regular period. Use of the contraceptive pill is not recommended for women over 35, particularly if they smoke, therefore progesterone or progestins may be prescribed.
PCOS sufferers that are hoping to conceive will likely not want to go on the birth control pill and will be prescribed fertility drugs, such as Clomid, instead. These medications can also offer protection against endometrial cancer.
While maintaining a healthy weight and lifestyle can significantly reduce your risk of many health problems associated with PCOS, it is still a good idea to go for regular check-ups and receive monitoring for any changes in your body. Among those things that you should regularly be screened for:
- Cholesterol and triglyceride levels
- Endometrial hyperplasia and endometrial cancer
- Kidney function (in those using metformin)
- Blood sugar and insulin levels
Additionally, to make sure your cardiovascular system stays in top shape, it is a good idea to quit smoking. Finally, remember that treatment of PCOS and its symptoms is a lifelong process. As you get older and your body changes, the way you manage PCOS symptoms will also change. Regular assessment of your symptoms and making any necessary changes to your treatment program will help to make sure that you stay healthy for a long time.