Do you have polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)? First of all, you are not alone. Around 12-18% of women of reproductive age are affected. Reducing symptoms can include a number or things – I have listed my top 7 tips to managing PCOS as featured on Australian Unity’s Life+.

Weight gain, excessive hair growth… polycystic ovary syndrome presents many different symptoms, but there are a variety of ways to manage them.

Though we often associate erratic periods, pimples and weight gain with adolescence, for some women, these issues continue into womanhood. They may point to a serious medical condition called PCOS. “In the long term, the condition—which is caused by too much insulin and too much ‘male’-type hormones like testosterone—can increase the risk of diabetes and heart disease and also cause fertility issues,” says Dr Sonia Davison, an endocrinologist from the Jean Hailes Foundation (JHF).

An ultrasound can confirm the presence of slightly enlarged ovaries wallpapered in tiny liquid-filled cysts that look like mini grapes and usually number from 10 to 100. If two other symptoms and hormone issues are present, PCOS is usually diagnosed. A combination of the following steps is recommended to reduce symptoms of PCOS:

1. Regular exericse

“Exercising at least 30 minutes every day can help reduce PCOS symptoms and the risk of developing other health problems such as diabetes and heart disease,” says Dr Davison. Team up with a buddy to walk, jog or attend the gym. “Try alternating periods of high-intensity exercise with intervals of lower intensity, as this helps the body produce catecholamines—chemicals that turn on the body’s fat-burning process,” says Associate Professor Stephen Boutcher, from the School of Medical Sciences at The University of New South Wales.

2. Healthy food

It is the same diet that boosts health in all women, so we all know the drill. “To maintain a healthy weight, eat plenty of fresh vegetables and fruit, lean sources of protein, whole grains and low-fat dairy products, and reduce your intake of fat, sugar, salt and takeaway foods,” says Melanie McGrice, a nutritionist and spokesperson for the Dietitians Association of Australia.

3. Weight loss

Even a 5–10 percent weight loss can have significant health benefits, including improved mood and fertility, more regular menstrual cycles and a reduced risk of diabetes. “Avoid rigid or restrictive fad diets, as they are hard to stick to and can leave you depleted of important nutrients,” says Melanie.

4. Drug treatments

To manage the wide range of PCOS issues, a number of medications may be used, including: ∙ the oral contraceptive pill ∙ insulin-sensitising drugs, like Metformin ∙ hormones called gonadotropins ∙ drugs to lower male hormones like testosterone and androgens ∙ weight-loss drugs ∙ antidepressants ∙ anti-anxiety drugs.

5. Surgery

Though not commonly used, surgery is sometimes recommended in severe cases of PCOS and may include: ∙ laparoscopic ovarian drilling, where probes are used to puncture small holes in the surface of the ovary, which in some women helps re-establish ovulation (though it is not clear why) ∙ bariatric surgery—weight-loss surgery (such as gastric banding) that helps reduce the size of the stomach.

6. Counselling

“Up to 64 percent of women with PCOS may experience some form of depression and over half may experience anxiety,” says Dr Mandy Deeks, a JHF psychologist. Seeing a counsellor who teaches strategies called cognitive behavioural therapy can help with the low self-esteem, poor body image, eating disorders and issues around feminine identity and sexual confidence that often affect women with this condition.

7. Natural therapies

Though there is some indication that Chinese herbs may help reduce PCOS symptoms, there is no firm evidence to confirm that treatments like acupuncture, homeopathy and osteopathy bring symptom relief. “Natural therapies should only be prescribed by an experienced, qualified practitioner, preferably with an interest in women’s health and PCOS,” says JHF naturopath, Sandra Villella. “Make sure you also tell your doctor or specialist about all complementary therapies you are taking.”