Adrenal PCOS: What Is It & Ways To Treat It

Living with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) can be challenging, and understanding its different subtypes can help us navigate our journey more effectively. In this blog post, we will delve into one of the subtypes known as Adrenal PCOS. We will explore what it is, its causes, symptoms, and most importantly, discuss various treatment options available to empower those living with Adrenal PCOS to take control of their health and well-being.

What is Adrenal PCOS?

Adrenal PCOS is a specific subtype of PCOS that is influenced by the adrenal glands. In this condition, the adrenal glands, located on top of the kidneys, produce excessive amounts of androgens, primarily DHEA-S and testosterone. These androgens can disrupt the delicate hormonal balance in the body and contribute to the development of PCOS symptoms.

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Causes of Adrenal PCOS:

Adrenal PCOS is thought to be caused by an overproduction of androgens by the adrenal glands. While the exact cause is still unknown, there are several factors that have been associated with the development of this subtype:

  1. Genetic predisposition: Studies^1 have suggested that certain genetic factors may make some individuals more susceptible to Adrenal PCOS.

  2. Insulin resistance: Insulin resistance, a common feature of PCOS, has been shown^2 to  impact adrenal gland function and contribute to the development of Adrenal PCOS .

  3. Chronic stress: Research^3 has shown that prolonged exposure to stress can stimulate the production of cortisol, a stress hormone, by the adrenal glands. This excess cortisol can disrupt the normal balance of hormones in the body, leading to the development of Adrenal PCOS (Dumesic et al., 2016).

Symptoms of Adrenal PCOS:

The symptoms of Adrenal PCOS are similar to other subtypes of PCOS, including:

  1. Irregular menstrual cycles: Women with Adrenal PCOS may experience irregular or unpredictable periods.

  2. Excessive hair growth (Hirsutism): Increased androgen levels can cause excess hair growth on the face, chest, back, or abdomen.

  3. Acne: Androgen excess can contribute to the development of acne, particularly along the jawline and chin.

  4. Weight gain: Difficulty in losing weight or unexpected weight gain may be observed in individuals with Adrenal PCOS.

  5. Insulin resistance: Adrenal PCOS is often associated with insulin resistance, which can further complicate weight management and contribute to metabolic disturbances.

Treatment options for Adrenal PCOS:

Treating Adrenal PCOS involves addressing the underlying hormonal imbalance and managing the associated symptoms. Here are some strategies that can help:

  1. Lifestyle modifications:

    • Regular exercise: Engage in regular physical activity to improve insulin sensitivity and promote overall well-being.

    • Balanced diet: Focus on consuming a balanced diet of nutrient-dense foods, including whole grains, lean proteins, fruits, and vegetables, while limiting processed foods and added sugars.

    • Stress management: Explore stress-reducing techniques like mindfulness, yoga, or meditation to help regulate cortisol levels and support hormonal balance.

  2. Medication:

    • Anti-androgen medications: Your healthcare provider may prescribe anti-androgen medications to help reduce excessive androgen production and manage symptoms such as hirsutism and acne.

    • Insulin-sensitising agents: Medications like metformin have been shown in studies^4 to help improve insulin sensitivity and regulate menstrual cycles.

  3. Hormonal therapy:

    • Oral contraceptives: Birth control pills can help regulate menstrual cycles, reduce androgen levels, and alleviate symptoms of Adrenal PCOS.

    • Progesterone therapy: Progesterone can be prescribed to induce regular menstrual cycles and reduce excessive endometrial growth.

  4. Regular monitoring and follow-up:

    • It is crucial to work closely with your healthcare provider to monitor your progress and make adjustments to your treatment plan as needed.

    • Regular check-ups, hormone level monitoring, and ongoing communication with your healthcare provider can significantly improve the management of Adrenal PCOS.

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Adrenal PCOS is one subtype of PCOS that involves the overproduction of androgens by the adrenal glands. Understanding the causes, symptoms, and treatment options for Adrenal PCOS can empower individuals to make informed decisions and take control of their health. By embracing lifestyle modifications, utilising medication when necessary, and maintaining regular communication with healthcare professionals, it is possible to manage the symptoms of Adrenal PCOS and live a fulfilling life. Remember, you don't have to navigate this journey alone—reach out to supportive communities, engage with healthcare professionals, and advocate for your own well-being.

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  1. Khan MJ, Ullah A, Basit S. Genetic Basis of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS): Current Perspectives. Appl Clin Genet. 2019 Dec 24;12:249-260. doi: 10.2147/TACG.S200341. PMID: 31920361; PMCID: PMC6935309.
  2. Moran, L. J., Pasquali, R., Teede, H. J., Hoeger, K. M., & Norman, R. J. (2012). Treatment of obesity in polycystic ovary syndrome: a position statement of the Androgen Excess and Polycystic Ovary Syndrome Society. Fertility and sterility, 98(4), 946-955.
  3. Dumesic, D. A., Oberfield, S. E., Stener-Victorin, E., Marshall, J. C., Laven, J. S., & Legro, R. S. (2015). Scientific statement on the diagnostic criteria, epidemiology, pathophysiology, and molecular genetics of polycystic ovary syndrome: April 2015. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, 100(8), 2624-2634.
  4. Azziz, R., Carmina, E., Dewailly, D., Diamanti-Kandarakis, E., Escobar-Morreale, H. F., Futterweit, W., ... & Witchel, S. F. (2016). The Androgen Excess and PCOS Society criteria for the polycystic ovary syndrome: the complete task force report. Fertility and sterility, 106(3), 645-655.