Is Fluid Retention Related to PCOS?
Fluid retention, bloating, and water retention are three terms for the same condition – excess fluids accumulating in your body’s cavities. Women with PCOS often report this troubling symptom. Imbalanced hormones, especially estrogen, might be affecting your body’s normalizing mechanisms, or it could be a side effect of birth control pills, which is one of the more common PCOS drugs. If you’re struggling with fluid retention and PCOS, you should know you’re not alone. A healthy lifestyle, including a low carbohydrate diet, regular physical activity, and nutritional supplements, can help restore your body’s natural balance and begin to alleviate your symptoms like PCOS weight gain and water retention.
Causes of PCOS and Water Retention
Women who suffer from Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS), also called PCOD (Polycystic Ovarian Disorder), suffer through a long list of symptoms on a regular basis. But is fluid retention one of them? Upon initial research, it is difficult to find a link between Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) and fluid retention, but for some women there is an indirect connection between their condition and the excess weight they seem to carry.
What is Fluid Retention?
Also known as water weight or edema, fluid retention occurs when liquids pool within your body’s tissues, which creates a bloated feeling. Depending on the reason for the retention of the fluid, you might experience:1
- Shortness of breath, due to the collection of fluid within the chest.
- Swelling of the skin, which may look puffy. Additionally, depending on the amount of fluid, the skin may appear shiny.
- Enlargement of the abdomen (edema, or fluid retention, in the abdomen is also called ascites).
Furthermore, edema typically occurs in one of four areas of your body, including:1
Fluid retention can be very uncomfortable, especially if you’re already combating a variety of other painful symptoms. In fact, it can be confused for PCOS weight gain, which is one of the most common symptoms of the syndrome.
To understand the connection between Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome and fluid retention, it is best to first discuss the many symptoms associated with the condition. Often influenced by Insulin Resistance – a condition that prevents your body from successfully using insulin to convert glucose into energy – Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) presents with a unique set of symptoms in each woman.6 These symptoms can range from mild to severe, but they are often both physically and emotionally painful.
PCOS: What Are its Symptoms?
Because there are so many symptoms associated with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS), and relatively little is known about the syndrome, a final list of all of the associated health issues has yet to be compiled. However, you may have several symptoms that include:2
- Infertility: Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome is often discovered because a woman is unable to conceive a child. This symptom is, for many women, the most emotionally difficult symptom with which to cope, as it can interfere with their romantic relationship, self-image, and family plans.
- Irregular Menstrual Activity: Many women who have Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) do not have regular menstrual cycles. These can range from sporadic to completely absent menstrual periods, which contribute to infertility issues.
- Anovulation/Oligovulation: A lack of ovulation and infrequent ovulation, these two issues also have the ability to interfere with fertility and prevent the conception of a child.
- Abnormal Hair Growth: Ranging from hair loss, which takes the form of male pattern baldness, to hirsutism, which is the excessive growth of hair in irregular places, the increase or decrease of hair growth can be very embarrassing to many women who have Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS).
- Ovarian Cysts: Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) was named after the commonly found “string of pearls” that develops in the ovaries, but all women do not have this symptom.
- Weight Gain and Obesity: It is highly common for women who have this condition to gain weight, which can be confused with fluid retention. This is also an embarrassing and difficult-to-manage symptom.
- Skin Conditions: Acne, skin tags, and acanthosis nigricans (patches of skin that are dark, thickened, and almost like velvet to the touch) commonly occur in women who have this condition. Acanthosis nigricans is an indicator that Insulin Resistance is present.
- Elevated Cholesterol and High Blood Pressure: These symptoms, especially when combined with weight gain, can become dangerous and require consistant monitoring.
- Sleep Apnea: Causing constant interruption of sleep, this symptom can make women feel exhausted and, in severe cases, can be dangerous.
Available Natural Treatment Options
There is no cure for Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, but there are a variety of treatment options that can be used to alleviate the symptoms of the condition. The most popular and effective of these is lifestyle modification. By eating a healthy diet, getting regular exercise, and taking targeted Nutritional Supplements women who have this condition can reduce their weight and the severity of their symptoms. It is recommended that women who have this condition eat a diet that is high in non-starchy vegetables and low in fats, sugars, and simple carbohydrates. Although carbohydrates are necessary in one’s diet, they should be eaten in moderation and should be limited to complex carbohydrates. Furthermore, an increase in fiber is also beneficial.3
PCOS Drugs and other Treatments
Women who suffer from Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) often seek out treatment for infertility, and Clomid is a popular prescription for this issue. If Insulin Resistance is detected, doctors can also prescribe Metformin to increase the level of insulin sensitivity of the cells of your body.3
Because another common and difficult-to-manage symptom is an irregular menstrual cycle, if you have this condition chances are you’ll be prescribed oral contraceptives to regulate your reproductive functions. A combination of estrogen and progesterone, this treatment is popular for women who are not interested in conceiving.7 Not only does this make life more manageable, it also helps avoid a higher risk of endometrial cancer, which is associated with a prolonged absence of menstrual periods.3
Oral Contraceptives, Menstruation, and Fluid Retention
Fluid retention can be experienced by women who have Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS), but the cause of their edema might be attributed to one of three different issues. First, you might simply confuse fluid retention and weight gain, as weight gain is a prominent symptom among women who have this condition.2 Because both traditional weight gain and fluid retention can make the body feel bigger, you might have a difficult time telling the difference between them.
Second, water weight is also associated with monthly menstrual periods.1 Because women who have Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) often also have irregular menstrual cycles, the water retention may be more noticeable and less routine than in women who experience a regular cycle.
Finally, oral contraceptives, especially those high in estrogen, have been known to cause fluid retention.4 Oral contraceptives are, as previously discussed, a common treatment for the irregular menstrual periods often associated with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS). For this reason, fluid retention can also be associated with the condition, even though it is a side effect of one of its treatment methods. Furthermore, water retention can cause sodium retention, which can contribute to further health problems. By lowering the dosage of the estrogen in the contraceptive this issue can be addressed.4 Likewise, the pill has also been associated with weight gain, which is another symptom of Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome.2, 4
Although a clinically proven connection between fluid retention and Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome has not been defined, there is evidence to support the fact if you have this syndrome you can still experience edema, even if it is caused indirectly by a treatment option or symptom of the condition. To avoid adding this issue to the already painful list of symptoms you are enduring, you and your doctor can pay close attention to the way your body reacts to treatment options. You can then adjust treatment procedures and even diet and exercise routines accordingly.
- “Patient information: Edema (swelling),” UpToDate, 11 August 2010, http://www.uptodate.com/contents/patient-information-edema-swelling?source=search_result&search=PCOS+and+Fluid+Retention&selectedTitle=1~10#H2 (17 November 2011).
- “PCOS Symptoms and Signs,” About.com, 20 June 2009, http://pcos.about.com/od/pcos101/a/pcosymptoms.htm (17 November 2011).
- “PCOS Treatments,” About.com, 1 July 2010, http://pcos.about.com/od/pcos101/a/pcostreatment.htm (17 November 2011).
- “Weight Gain, Fluid Retention and the Pill,” About.com, n.d., – http://womenshealth.about.com/gi/dynamic/offsite.htm?site=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.wdxcyber.com%2Fncontr11.htm (17 November 2011).
- Ultimate PCOS Handbook, Harris C & Cheung T, 2008, p.231
- “Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS),” National Women’s Health Network, December 2007 http://nwhn.org/polycystic-ovary-syndrome-pcos
- “Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) – Medications,” WebMD.com, January 2010 http://women.webmd.com/tc/polycystic-ovary-syndrome-pcos-medications
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