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Published June 23, 2013, 11:40 PM

PCOS best managed with diet, exercise and hormone regulation

CARRINGTON, N.D. - Amber Fischer saw her OB-GYN’s expression change during her internal ultrasound. “I think you’re one of the youngest women I’ve ever had to diagnose with PCOS,” she told the then 17-year-old.

By: Meredith Holt, INFORUM

CARRINGTON, N.D. - Amber Fischer saw her OB-GYN’s expression change during her internal ultrasound.

“I think you’re one of the youngest women I’ve ever had to diagnose with PCOS,” she told the then 17-year-old.

The New Rockford teenager sought help when she became anemic from a year of menstrual bleeding.

Though not all women with polycystic ovarian syndrome have irregular periods, Dr. Stephanie Dahl, a reproductive endocrinologist who specializes in PCOS, says it’s one of the most common symptoms.

“They might go three or four months without a period, and then they might bleed for three weeks, and then they might go two months without a period, and then have a five-day period and go five months without one,” she says.

According to the U.S. Office of Women’s Health, 5 percent to 10 percent of women of childbearing age have PCOS and as many as 5 million women in the U.S. may be affected.

Along with menstruation, PCOS affects a woman’s ability to get pregnant and causes frustrating visible symptoms such as weight gain, acne and excessive hair growth.

Now age 30 and living in Fargo, Fischer says she was teased about her weight and facial hair while growing up.

“Women with PCOS tend to gain weight easier and have a harder time losing it, which can also contribute to self-esteem issues,” Dahl says.

Fischer knew from a young age she wanted to be a mother, so learning she’d have trouble getting pregnant has been especially difficult for her.

“Because my mom raised three children on her own, I learned from that and I wanted to be her,” she says.

She and her husband first tried for a baby about three years ago, but nothing happened.

Dahl, of the Sanford Reproductive Medicine Clinic in Fargo, says it’s not impossible for a woman with PCOS to conceive.

“It’s one of the most common reasons we see women for infertility. It’s also one of the most easily treated and most successful,” she says.

Management tools

PCOS is best managed with diet, exercise and hormone regulation.

Fischer tried birth control pills and Metformin, a diabetes drug, for a while, but she didn’t do well on either.

The first infertility doctor she saw told her, “I’m not going to do anything for you until you lose 100 pounds.”

Discouraged, Fischer broke down. She started eating healthy and swimming, but the weight still wasn’t coming off.

“A normal person trying to lose weight – they eat healthy and exercise – will lose 20 pounds no problem. A person with PCOS would lose 4,” Fischer says.

Dahl says a woman with PCOS needs to exercise for 30 minutes a day five days a week just to maintain her weight.

About a month ago, Fischer met with Dr. Chris Dandurdan, a chiropractic neurologist who founded Fargo’s Dakota Health Solutions.

“I can’t believe I’m going to a chiropractor for infertility issues,” she says with a laugh.

But since following his advice, she’s felt better and lost 7 pounds of body fat.

Fischer cleaned out her fridge and pantry (except for a “treat” cupboard for her husband) and eats a clean, gluten-free diet.

“I like not being on drugs and seeing results. Just taking supplements is a vast improvement from harsh pills. Without side effects,” she says.

Dandurdan helps his clients regulate their blood sugar, thyroid functioning, male and female sex hormones and stress hormone.

“We’re not the be all, end all, but we have a different way of looking at it,” he says.

Fischer hopes her hard work pays off with an eventual pregnancy.

“I want to be able to post on Facebook, ‘Hey, I’m having a baby!’ ” she says.

In the meantime, she’s enjoying increased energy, improved skin condition and overall wellness.

“I don’t want women who have PCOS to feel like they’re being judged, because they’re not alone,” she says.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Meredith Holt at (701) 241-5590

PCOS symptoms

The symptoms of PCOS can vary from woman to woman but include:

• Infertility (not being able to get pregnant) because of not ovulating

• Infrequent, absent and/or irregular menstrual periods

• Increased hair growth on the face, chest, stomach, back, thumbs or toes

• Cysts on the ovaries

• Acne, oily skin or dandruff

• Weight gain or obesity, usually with extra weight around the waist

• Male-pattern baldness or thinning hair

• Patches of skin on the neck, arms, breasts or thighs that are thick and dark brown or black

• Skin tags (excess flaps of skin) in the armpits or neck area

• Pelvic pain

• Anxiety or depression

• Sleep apnea (when breathing stops for short periods of time while asleep)

Source: WomensHealth.gov