By Brianna Flaherty
In case you haven’t heard of it before, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is an endocrine disorder that gets its name from the fact that it causes ovarian cysts in some people with periods (but not all!). It affects about 6 million women in the U.S. alone, which you’d *think* means we know all about it, but the root cause is still unknown.
Your endocrine system regulates your hormones, so PCOS ultimately boils down to a hormone imbalance — which can make it even harder to diagnose if you’re already experiencing the natural hormone fluctuations that come with perimenopause. Plus, PCOS doesn’t look the same for everybody. One of the most common symptoms is missed or irregular periods (though it’s actually possible to have PCOS in menopause), but acne, fertility issues, weight gain, bladder leaks, and pelvic pain are just a few of the other common signs.
When you’re dealing with a mysterious medical issue (most women’s health issues, tbh), it’s so important to work with a health professional you really trust. A good doctor will hear your concerns and help you tailor a treatment plan that feels right for *you*, which sometimes means trying multiple things until you find what makes you feel better.
Depending on your unique experience, treatment can include everything from hysterectomies to simple dietary changes. No matter your symptoms, there are tons of non-invasive options worth trying, if only to make your symptoms a little less intense.
find new ways to manage your stress
It’s 2019, so I’ll just come out and say that your mental state *does* affect your bodily health. Easier said than done, but getting a handle on stress and anxiety can directly impact the intensity of PCOS symptoms like poor sleep and mood swings.
Stress management and self-care look different for everybody, but can include everything from exercising more frequently to trying acupuncture. No matter what practice you put in place, relying on it regularly can help you start feeling energized and empowered to navigate your symptoms (the World Health Organization says so, too).
use endocrine-friendly products
It’s not quite as simple as looking for an “endocrine-friendly” label when you’re shopping, but limiting your contact with endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) is a great way to boost your health. Many women with PCOS already have elevated levels of testosterone, or hormonal imbalances from treatments like hysterectomies, and EDCs are harmful chemicals that can throw your hormones even further out of whack. There’s a growing theory out there that endocrine disruptors trigger or worsen symptoms of PCOS by affecting your bod’s hormone production.
The biggest EDC culprits—pesticides, BPA, phthalates, and dioxins—are found in everyday items like plastic bottles, makeup, canned food, and detergents. Avoiding them entirely is kind of a tall order, but simple changes like swapping out plastic food containers for glass or wearing natural fibers in place of synthetics can help reduce your contact with EDCs.
work out your pelvic floor muscles
PCOS diagnosis or not, taking care of your floor is a key part of overall health that most of us don’t know much about. Many people with PCOS experience bladder leaks because higher testosterone levels (and hormone imbalances in general) can weaken the pelvic floor muscles over time. Rehabilitating your pelvic muscles with workouts can help counterbalance leaking and pelvic pain.
We always recommend finding a pelvic floor PT who can tailor a treatment that’s unique to your bod. You can start your search here (and in the meantime, undies from our sister brand Speax can keep you fresh ‘n’ dry).
switch up your diet
Many people with PCOS have high levels of insulin that put them at risk for conditions like diabetes, so adjusting what you eat can play an important part in managing symptoms. Avoiding sugars and consuming more high-fiber foods will slow down your digestion and help regulate your insulin levels. Conveniently for people who leak a little, a PCOS diet also encourages eating bladder-friendly foods.
Do you have PCOS? How do you navigate symptoms? Share in the comments!