Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) and menopause are both related to hormones, but menopause doesn’t cure PCOS. When you reach menopause, you may still have some symptoms of PCOS in addition to symptoms of menopause.
Continue reading to learn more about PCOS and what to expect as you approach menopause.
Women with PCOS usually have higher levels of male hormones, including testosterone. PCOS also makes your body less responsive to insulin. That causes high blood sugar levels. High blood sugar levels can further increase male hormones, making your symptoms of PCOS worse.
Women with PCOS may also have low levels of the female hormone progesterone. Progesterone helps regulate menstruation and maintain a pregnancy.
Years before menopause begins, you naturally start to produce less estrogen and progesterone. The drop in female hormones eventually causes you to stop ovulating. You’ve reached menopause when you haven’t had a menstrual period in a year.
PCOS and menopause both affect the levels of progesterone in your blood, but they affect your hormones in different ways. That’s why menopause doesn’t treat or cure PCOS.
You can continue to have symptoms of PCOS when you reach perimenopause and menopause. Perimenopause is the period before menopause that’s often accompanied by symptoms such as hot flashes and irregular periods. During perimenopause, your hormone levels begin to change in preparation for menopause. Perimenopause can last for several years. You’re considered to be in menopause when you haven’t had a period for 12 months.
Learn more: What’s the difference between perimenopause and menopause? »
Perimenopause generally starts in your 40s or 50s. The average age of menopause is 51. Women with PCOS tend to reach menopause about two years later than women without PCOS.
PCOS doesn’t go away with menopause, so you can continue to have symptoms. Some symptoms of PCOS are similar to those of perimenopause. That can make it difficult for women to be newly diagnosed with PCOS during perimenopause.
Symptoms of the two conditions include:
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|changes in sex drive||✓|
|irregular or missed periods||✓||✓|
|hot flashes and night sweats||✓|
|pain and discomfort during intercourse||✓|
|thinning hair on the head, especially in middle age||✓||✓|
|unwanted hair growth||✓||✓|
|vaginal and urinary tract infections||✓|
|vaginal dryness and thinning of vaginal tissue||✓|
PCOS can affect your health in several ways. It increases the risk of:
- impaired glucose tolerance, insulin resistance, and type 2 diabetes
- chronic inflammation
- high blood cholesterols and fats
- heart attack
Your risk of developing these conditions may be higher if you have multiple risk factors. Other risk factors include:
- being in perimenopause or menopause
- being overweight
Some women with PCOS may actually have a lower risk of complications after menopause. Studies on this topic are limited, though, and there have been mixed results.
Techniques for managing PCOS symptoms can also help manage some symptoms of perimenopause.
Manage your weight
Being overweight increases your risk of heart attack and insulin resistance. Insulin resistance can lead to type 2 diabetes. Try these strategies for managing your weight and improving your diet to help lower those risks:
- Use smaller plates, reduce your portion sizes, and skip seconds.
- Eliminate or limit unhealthy carbohydrates such as pastries, baked goods, packaged snacks, and sweet drinks.
- Choose complex carbs found in foods made with whole grains, rice, and beans.
- Eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables.
- Engage in some type of physical activity every day, even if it’s just a short walk.
- Use stairs rather than elevators or escalators when possible, and park farther from your destination.
- Join a gym or sign up for exercise classes.
- Invest in home exercise equipment, such as a stationary bike or treadmill.
If you want to lose more than a few pounds, consult with your doctor about the healthiest ways to do that. To maintain weight loss, don’t be too restrictive, lose weight at a rate of 1 or 2 pounds a week, and find ways to incorporate these healthier habits for life.
Improve your sleep
Symptoms of PCOS and menopause can make it hard to get enough quality sleep. Here are a few tips that might help you go to sleep faster and stay asleep longer:
- Try to go to sleep at the same time every night and get up at the same time every morning.
- Clear your bedroom of electronic gadgets. If your alarm clock emits a glow, turn it toward a wall or leave it face down.
- Avoid electronic screens for the hour or two before bed, as this can change how melatonin, the hormone of sleep, functions.
- Invest in room-darkening window treatments.
- Get rid of bedroom clutter for a calming effect.
- Replace old, worn out pillows. Replace your mattress if it’s more than 10 years old.
- Avoid eating heavy meals too close to bedtime.
- Avoid caffeine after noon.
- Exercise every day, but not within a few hours of bedtime.
- Do something relaxing before bed such as reading, soaking in a warm bathtub, or meditating.
Ease hot flashes
To ease hot flashes and night sweats:
- Dress in layers so you can peel off a layer when you feel a hot flash coming on.
- Wear lightweight, breathable fabrics during the day, as well as for sleep.
- Limit your consumption of caffeine, alcohol, and spicy foods.
- Keep a fan handy.
- Keep your bedroom at a cool temperature. You can always kick the blankets off if you get too hot.
- Consider purchasing a cool gel pad on which to sleep.
Most symptoms of menopause can be managed through lifestyle changes. If your symptoms are severe, you may want to talk to your doctor about medications you may use.
In some cases, menopausal hormone therapy may be an option, but it’s not for everyone. You may also be able to use medications to reduce excessive hair growth. Over-the-counter vaginal lubricants can help ease symptoms of vaginal dryness or discomfort during sexual intercourse.
There’s no cure for PCOS, and you’ll continue to experience symptoms after menopause. Women with PCOS may start menopause later than women who do have the condition.
Careful attention to lifestyle factors such as diet and exercise can help you eliminate or improve some of the symptoms of PCOS and perimenopause.