PCOS 101: What PCOS is, How to Manage It, and Why It's Important
For as long as you can remember, you've been dreaming of bringing home your newborn baby. You picture yourself holding the little peanut, their head curled up on your chest, those little feet tucked on your belly. You have everything about this moment planned – from the nursery decor to the baby’s middle name.
In recent years, living with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) has made this moment feel out of reach. You’ve had nonstop weight problems, irregular periods, and hormonal issues. You’re tormented with thoughts like I'll never be able to get pregnant. How can I have a baby when I barely have a period?
Those thoughts are all wrong. Yes, having PCOS means having other health complications to manage. But it’s possible to get them under control by getting to the root of PCOS.
This article discusses the health risks and problems associated with PCOS – and how to manage them so you can bring your baby home sooner than you thought.
PCOS and Its Symptoms
Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a genetic condition causing hormonal disturbances in women. Nearly 5 million women in the U.S. of reproductive age are affected by PCOS. 
It’s characterized by excess male sex hormones (hyperandrogenism) and multiple cysts in the ovaries.
Hyperandrogenism prevents the production of the hormones that regulate the menstrual cycle. It can prevent ovulation or the release of a mature egg. This causes women with PCOS to have irregular periods and struggle with infertility.
If you have PCOS, you’re probably familiar with symptoms, like:
- Ovarian cysts
- Male-patterned baldness
- Unwanted facial hair (hirsutism)
- Weight gain
- Irregular menstrual cycles
If you’re experiencing these symptoms, you’re not alone. Women can be diagnosed with PCOS in adolescence or early adulthood. It can also cause secondary conditions like diabetes or metabolic syndrome. Women with PCOS are more likely to be diagnosed with these conditions earlier in life than the average person.
But getting diagnosed with PCOS isn’t always straightforward. It takes the average woman two years – and four doctors – to get a PCOS diagnosis. 
Because PCOS is a set of symptoms, there isn’t a single test to diagnose it. Your doctor may need to check bloodwork or do an ultrasound to find an answer.
Risks, Disorders, and Conditions Associated With PCOS
Polycystic ovary syndrome affects your endocrine system, which is responsible for making hormones for metabolism and reproduction. Although you may think of it as a reproductive health problem, it is just as much a metabolic condition.
Women with PCOS struggle with metabolic problems like insulin resistance, obesity, and diabetes. It’s all connected. You may have just a few of these issues, or you could have a bunch. Here are common conditions that PCOS causes or is linked to.
Women with PCOS are at an increased risk of having chronic low-grade inflammation. This increases the risk of other problems like heart disease. Women with PCOS and obesity have an even greater risk for heart problems. 
You may have inflammation and not realize it – it doesn’t always show up as something you can see. For women with PCOS, insulin resistance may be the underlying cause of inflammation.
Insulin is a hormone made by the pancreas. Its role is to regulate your blood sugar. When blood sugar levels get too high, insulin brings them down. Insulin resistance occurs when the body doesn’t respond to the hormone.
Instead of using what’s available, more insulin is released. The buildup of insulin is called hyperinsulinemia. Having too much insulin in the blood for too long causes inflammation.
Inflammation can cause several problems. It can cause damage to the vascular system (veins and arteries). As a result, chronic inflammation can cause problems with circulation and heart disease. 
Over half of women with PCOS develop type 2 diabetes by age 40. Not only does PCOS increase the risk of diabetes, but it can also mean being diagnosed at a younger age.
In type 2 diabetes, the body doesn’t respond to or make enough insulin. Many women with PCOS have insulin resistance, which is a precursor to diabetes.
Although the cause of insulin resistance in PCOS is unknown, we know it’s a major problem for women. Insulin resistance causes blood sugar to stay high for too long. Uncontrolled blood sugar can cause type 2 diabetes in adult women.
Certain risk factors can increase your chance of developing diabetes – like having a family history or being obese. Black women with PCOS are more likely to develop pre-diabetes and metabolic syndrome than women from other backgrounds. 
PCOS also increases your risk for gestational diabetes. This is diabetes caused by pregnancy. If you get pregnant with PCOS (yes, you can!), talk to your doctor. You’ll need to be monitored closely for gestational diabetes.
Getting your blood sugar or insulin problems under control early may prevent a diabetes diagnosis. It’s common for doctors to prescribe metformin for insulin resistance. Talk to your doctor about your best option.
You can start taking steps to prevent diabetes now. The best way to prevent diabetes is to exercise regularly, eat healthy foods, and maintain a healthy weight.
Women with PCOS are at a higher risk of having abnormal lipid levels. The body uses lipids, or fats, to make energy in the cells. Women with PCOS often have too many bad fats and not enough good fats in their blood. 
Fats in the blood include:
- Low-density lipoprotein (LDL): Also known as “bad cholesterol.” A buildup of LDL causes blocked arteries, which can lead to a heart attack or stroke. The LDL number should be lower.
- High-density lipoprotein (HDL): Also known as “good cholesterol.” HDL lowers circulating LDL to prevent fat buildup in the arteries. You want this number to be higher.
- Triglycerides: The most common type of fat in the blood. High triglyceride levels combined with abnormal cholesterol levels increase the risk of heart disease.
Talk to your doctor about getting your cholesterol levels checked. You can correct lipid abnormalities through lifestyle modifications like exercising, eating a healthy diet, and quitting smoking. 
Heart and Cardiovascular Diseases
Abnormal fat levels in the blood can cause heart or liver problems. Abnormal lipids can cause a fatty liver, which is when too much fat builds up in the liver. In severe cases of fatty liver, the liver tissue becomes inflamed and turns into scar tissue.
A buildup of fat in the blood can block the arteries that supply blood to the heart. This increases the risk of heart attacks and strokes.
PCOS also increases the risk of vascular diseases. Insulin resistance causes inflammation of the blood vessels. This can lead to circulation problems, including heart attacks. Women with PCOS have an increased risk for heart disease with age. 
Many women with PCOS also have obesity. Having one or both of these increases your risk for metabolic syndrome, a condition that includes:
- High blood pressure
- Increased belly fat
- Abnormal lipid levels
- High blood sugar
An estimated two-thirds of women with PCOS have metabolic disorders. 
Obesity and high blood sugar levels increase androgen production. It’s a tricky cycle – PCOS causes abnormal blood sugars and obesity, which causes extra androgens. Excess androgens cause a number of PCOS symptoms. Obesity can also make insulin resistance worse.
It’s important to find out the underlying condition causing your PCOS to treat it. Being overweight or obese is a risk factor for PCOS, so talk to your doctor about safe ways to lose weight. Getting insulin resistance under control may help with weight loss.
Infertility or Subfertility
Hormonal imbalances in PCOS cause irregular menstrual cycles. This makes it harder for women with PCOS to know if and when they’re ovulating.
As a result, many women with PCOS struggle to have a baby. PCOS is linked to:
- Subfertility: Having a hard time getting pregnant.
- Infertility: Not being able to conceive at all. An estimated 15-20% of women with infertility also have PCOS. 
With PCOS, imbalanced hormones can cause ovulatory dysfunction. In other words, there’s a problem with ovulation. If an egg isn’t released in a cycle, it can’t get fertilized.
Although PCOS presents many challenges, it’s possible to get pregnant with an irregular cycle. If you’re ready to try for a baby, start taking steps to get your hormones balanced.
The S’moo Ovary Good hormone-balancing supplement is designed specifically for women with PCOS hormone challenges. The all-natural blend of vitamins, minerals, and herbs helps correct hormone imbalances related to PCOS. It’s a safe way to balance your hormones to get pregnant naturally.*
If you have a ton of mood swings, depression, and anxiety with PCOS, know that you’re not crazy. It’s a complex condition with many factors that feel beyond your control.
If PCOS makes you feel hopeless at times, you’re not alone. Studies show women with PCOS have an increased risk of depression. The physical effects of PCOS can bring you down mentally.
In a study, all of these factors were contributing factors to women with PCOS and depression: 
- Physical appearances, like excess body hair
Finding answers to PCOS can feel isolating and maddening – but you don’t have to go through the ups and downs alone. Feel the love and support from other women living with PCOS in the S’moo Babe community. Wherever you are on your PCOS journey, join today!
Obstructive Sleep Apnea
An estimated 20% of adults have obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). Sleep apnea occurs when you have pauses in your breathing while sleeping. Having PCOS increases the risk of sleep-disordered breathing by 30-40%. 
The reason women with PCOS are at risk for OSA is unclear. Experts believe the link could be metabolic dysfunction. Obstructive sleep apnea may make problems like insulin resistance worse. And both increase the risk of heart disease.
PCOS causes an irregular menstrual cycle. This can cause hormone imbalances that increase the risk of endometrial cancer.
The endometrium is the lining of the uterus. When cancer cells form in this area, it causes endometrial cancer.
The symptoms of endometrial cancer are:
- Abnormal vaginal bleeding, spotting, or discharge
- Pelvic pain
- Feeling a mass in your lower belly
- Weight loss
Early detection of endometrial cancer saves lives. Talk to your doctor about getting screened if you’re experiencing any of the signs of endometrial cancer.
How to Prevent Problems From PCOS
PCOS is more than a reproductive issue – it’s a complex condition that plays out differently for everyone. As research evolves, women with PCOS are getting more answers every day.
Until then, you can take steps to be the healthiest version of yourself today. Start by going back to the basics of living a generally healthy lifestyle:
- Eat a healthy diet. Try eating a heart-healthy diet to lower your cholesterol and protect your liver. This helps prevent the risk of heart disease from PCOS-related conditions. The liver is also responsible for clearing estrogen. Having a healthy liver helps keep your hormones balanced.
Many women with PCOS have had success with weight loss after going gluten and dairy free. These dietary changes may reduce inflammation and regulate blood sugar levels. Consider cutting back on gluten and dairy as part of your hormone-balancing strategy.
Herbal teas may help balance your hormones too. Try spearmint tea for excess androgens or raspberry leaf tea for fertility.
- Exercise. It’s important for women with PCOS to live an active lifestyle. If you’re overweight or obese, talk to your doctor about ways to lose weight. This can help manage insulin resistance and prevent developing diabetes. It also helps prevent inflammation and heart problems.
Try incorporating low-intensity and weighted workouts as part of your PCOS exercise routine. These workouts keep your heart rate low and consistent. High-intensity workouts get your heart rate up, which can cause cortisol to go up too. Cortisol, aka the stress hormone, can cause your blood sugar to spike. This can make it harder to keep weight off if you have insulin resistance.
- Get plenty of sleep. Sleep and exercise are proven ways to improve mood and relieve stress. It can also reduce inflammation if you’re at risk for chronic low-grade inflammation.
- Focus on balancing your hormones. S’moo Ovary Good contains inositol, which helps correct insulin resistance. Ovary Good’s hormone-balancing blend corrects hormone imbalances to regulate your menstrual cycle.*
Polycystic ovary syndrome looks different for everyone. Make sure to discuss your symptoms with your doctor to treat the underlying issues causing problems for you. Until then, the S’moo is here to support you wherever you are on your PCOS journey.
Start Your Healing Journey With PCOS
Having PCOS is challenging but you can still heal and live a hormone-balanced life. Along with the tips from above, you can also try S’moo Ovary Good – it’s a hormone-balancing powder you can add to your favorite recipe or smoothie.
Think of your healing journey as the first step toward bringing home your newborn baby. When you’re pushing yourself at the gym, picture yourself pushing your baby in a stroller on an afternoon walk. And all those nights you swapped white rice for quinoa? Totally worth it when you’re kissing those tiny feet.
Get started on your PCOS healing journey today – your baby is waiting for you!
*The content in this article is provided for informational purposes only. This is not intended to prevent, diagnose, treat, or cure any health conditions. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice or consultation. Talk to your doctor before making changes to your healthcare regimen.
- PCOS (Polycystic Ovary Syndrome) and Diabetes
- What are the links between polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) and diabetes?
- Polycystic ovaries
- The Role of Chronic Inflammation in Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome—A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis
- HDL (Good), LDL (Bad) Cholesterol and Triglycerides
- Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome–Related Depression in Adolescent Girls: A Review
- Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) and sleep apnea
By Alexa Davidson, MSN, RN
Alexa is a registered nurse and freelance health writer. As a nurse, she spent over a decade taking care of sick babies in neonatal and pediatric cardiac intensive care units.
After earning a master’s degree in nursing education, Alexa began teaching associate degree nursing students. Now she’s teaching everyday readers about their health through copywriting.
Alexa believes health information should be accessible to anyone. She’s focused on writing approachable content that empowers women to take control of their reproductive health.
As an emerging FemTech copywriter, Alexa’s work is featured on product blogs like the Inito Fertility Monitor. She’s also a nurse writer and subject matter expert at NurseJournal, Working Nurse Magazine, and Indeed.
When she’s not writing, Alexa is probably in the kitchen. Her specialty is making healthy versions of comfort foods. Black bean brownies, anyone?