Remembering to take your birth control pill can feel like just another tedious to-do on your list (trust me, I know), but for those who suffer from polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), slipping up on contraception isn’t just a matter of risking an unplanned pregnancy; it can actually trigger symptoms of the hormonal disease. So, if you’ve ever wondered how birth control can affect PCOS, the answer is, most of the time, it’s the prescribed treatment for the condition.
For those of you who don’t know, PCOS is a hormonal disorder in women that causes enlarged ovaries with small cysts and messes with a woman’s menstrual cycle and ability to have children, due to the amount of male sex hormones being produced. Other symptoms include insulin resistance, weight gain, acne, extensive hair growth all over the body, and depression.
Though there’s still no cure for the condition, PCOS symptoms can fortunately be treated with a number of different methods, including regular exercise, a well-balanced diet rich in vegetables, fruits, and other whole foods, and by balancing sex hormones in the body — which brings us to the use of oral contraceptives.
Birth control is the most popular treatment for PCOS mainly because of its ability to regulate a woman’s period.
One of the first tell-tale signs of PCOS is an irregular or non-existent menstrual cycle, which is why oral contraception is likely the first treatment an OBGYN will suggest to a patient.
Birth control pills are made of synthetic hormones that pull strengths of both estrogen and progestin hormones in order to regulate a woman’s natural cycle, as well as omit the ovulation process to prevent pregnancy.
In addition to a more consistent menstrual cycle, women with PCOS who go on the pill also reap benefits like reduced cramping, acne prevention, a lighter period flow, and even a lowered risk of cancers and endometriosis.
But birth control is only one part of a successful treatment process.
It’s important to note that, while the birth control pill absolutely has a strong influence over PCOS symptoms, it’s only of the treatment process. In other words, it’s not exactly in your best interest to solely rely on the pill alone if you’re living with PCOS.
For example, women with PCOS are encouraged to get active. There’s no set exercise plan dedicated to PCOS, which means patients have the freedom to figure out what works best for them. For example, if you absolutely loathe the treadmill, then take the liberty of skipping it the next time you’re at the gym! Experiment with different types of workouts, like weight training, HIIT, Tabata, and pilates, and see which of these feels best for you and your body.
In addition to physical activity, a healthy, well-balanced diet is also strongly encouraged. John Butler, consultant gynecological surgeon at The London Clinic, told ,
Generally, you want to focus on ‘being healthy’ – so try to consume lots of fruits and vegetables, avoid high GI food, take regular meals so your blood sugar levels aren’t going up and down too much, try to do 30 minutes of exercise a day, and stop smoking.
Polycystic ovarian syndrome is your body’s way of saying you can’t handle high sugar levels — so your diet is a chance to really change things — and this can help you in your later life, pre-menopause and before and during pregnancy.
And even though it’s the most popular treatment, not every woman with PCOS can go on birth control.
While many women living with PCOS heavily rely on birth control pills to monitor their symptoms, there are possible disadvantages to this method.
For example, women are sometimes prescribed the wrong dose at first, and it can take a lot of time and trial and error to find the right amount that works for you. Or, for other women, even after finding the right dose, side effects like increased insulin resistance, weight gain, spotting between periods, and higher risk of cancer can present issues, as well.
If you think you may be suffering from PCOS, be sure to talk to your doctor about the options that are available to you, so you can find the best possible treatment.