If you are one the millions of American women living with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), going through menopause can feel like you are doing “double duty” with bothersome symptoms. Are things like weight gain, trouble sleeping, and mood swings coming from PCOS or perimenopause/menopause? The answer is: maybe both.
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PCOS and menopause are both caused by hormonal changes and have many of the same symptoms, which makes it difficult to know when perimenopause begins. Weight gain and increased cardiovascular risk are associated with perimenopause, and these are conditions that may be intensified for a woman with PCOS who is already dealing with metabolic problems.
Low levels of progesterone are present in women with PCOS and women in perimenopause and menopause. This hormone deficiency causes symptoms that can be seen in both conditions. Studies show that women with PCOS reach menopause later than other women. The delay is typically about two years.
Dr. Mary Claire Haver explains PCOS and what happens when it converges with menopause, and how you can live a healthy life during this turbulent time.
What is polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)?
Polycystic ovary syndrome is a common metabolic disorder for women, and is a leading cause of infertility. A widespread perception is that PCOS is a condition that only affects women during childbearing years, but that is a myth. PCOS is a chronic condition that must be managed through each stage of a woman’s life, including menopause.
As women get older, the symptoms of PCOS evolve from mostly reproductive to more broad-reaching metabolic concerns. It is a significant risk factor for developing cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
Symptoms of PCOS include:
- Irregular or absent menstrual cycles
- Pregnancy complications
- Weight gain
- Increased facial and body hair
- Depression and anxiety
- High cholesterol
- Pelvic pain
Health risks associated with PCOS:
- Insulin resistance
- Heart attack or other cardiovascular disease
Is it PCOS or menopause?
This is a tough question to answer and, unfortunately, the experts are still learning. Research is sparse about definitive ways to differentiate some of the symptoms of PCOS and menopause, and there is no accurate lab test that can diagnose perimenopause.
Dr. Haver outlines, below, some of the things you can do to manage the symptoms. It is also important to have an open and honest conversation with your healthcare provider about the specific symptoms you are facing.
When PCOS and Menopause Meet: What to Expect
Symptoms can be very similar. When women with PCOS go through perimenopause and menopause, they may experience symptoms of both conditions at the same time.
Irregular or missed periods
Increased facial or body hair
Hot Flashes/Night Sweats
How to Manage the Symptoms
Because both conditions involve hormonal imbalance, some of the same methods can be used to improve symptoms for both PCOS and menopause. Lifestyle modifications can significantly improve your quality of life.
Maintain a Healthy Weight
Because of the increased risk of insulin resistance, weight gain can be a substantial problem when PCOS and menopause come together. Studies show that losing only 5 percent of body weight can make a big difference for PCOS patients who are overweight.
Practice Good Sleep Hygiene
Hot flashes and mood changes can keep you from getting a good night’s sleep. To help promote a restful night, stick to a consistent bedtime and wake time. Try to exercise in the morning, soon after you wake up. Avoid caffeine and alcohol.
Eat Plenty of Protein and Whole Foods
Better nutrition can help reduce hot flashes, improve sleep, improve cardiovascular health, increase bone density and muscle mass, and maintain a healthy weight. Studies show that women who eat diets high in whole foods (including fresh fruits and vegetables and whole grains) have better overall health and fewer menopause symptoms.
Talk to your doctor.
Unfortunately, there is not a lot of information available to determine if symptoms are related to PCOS or perimenopause. If you have PCOS and are in midlife, speak with your healthcare provider about how to manage these two conditions simultaneously. PCOS is a long-term condition, and care needs to change as you move through different stages of life. And, remember the importance of lifestyle choices to manage your symptoms. The Galveston Diet is a scientifically based plan that targets the needs of menopausal women to help guide you to a long, healthy life.