10 Common Causes of PCOS Flare-Ups

PCOS (poly cystic ovary syndrome) is a complicated medical condition that causes enlarged ovaries and cysts to form on the outer edges of the ovaries. This condition is the leading cause of infertility in cisgender women. This condition causes problems on its own, but it can also contribute to other medical conditions, including diabetes and heart disease. 

What Triggers a Flare-up?

PCOS can flare-up for a wide range of reasons. Because PCOS is linked with a variety of other medical conditions, a PCOS flare-up can be caused by everything from stress to a poor diet. The cause of flare-ups differ from person to person. Therefore, knowing what triggers your flare-ups is the first step to taking control of PCOS…

10. Stress

Stress is a common culprit in many medical conditions. Excess stress has a way of breaking down our body’s natural defenses and lowering our overall health. That means that stress also makes PCOS symptoms worse. 

Why Stress Triggers a Flare-up

PCOS is very sensitive to stress. When the mind and the body become overloaded on stress, they produce the hormone cortisol. Experts link this hormone to worse symptoms for people living with PCOS. Stress also makes it harder for our bodies to handle ongoing diseases and decreases our quality of life. All of these factors play into PCOS flare-ups. 

Just like stress, making sure you get enough sleep helps to lower your overall stress levels and makes PCOS more manageable…

9. Lack of Sleep

On the other hand, a lack of sleep can also trigger PCOS flare-ups. Getting enough sleep is vital to improving our overall health. Infrequent sleep conversely tends to precede a PCOS flare-up and makes the condition harder to live with. 

Why a Lack of Sleep Triggers a Flare-up

There are a variety of reasons why a lack of sleep can trigger PCOS. Firstly, sleep is necessary for our body’s to function normally. Of course, sleep also helps us to fight off stress, which itself is a major PCOS trigger. So, when we find ourselves lacking sleep, PCOS can thereby start to flare-up. 

There are things we can do to manage a lack of sleep, though, just like there are ways to manage a poor diet, another common trigger…

8. Poor Diet

PCOS is directly tied in with our diets. Namely, a poor diet can cause PCOS flare-ups in addition to making the condition harder to live with overall. A poor diet can also lead to other conditions linked to PCOS, including diabetes, heart disease, and weight gain. 

Why a Poor Diet Triggers a Flare-up

Poor diets take a toll on the body’s ability to process sugars. While a diet can become insufficient in a variety of ways, most poor diets are high in fats and sugars. When a diet is too high in sugar, the body needs to produce more insulin, which in turn can impact hormone levels. Both of these events can trigger PCOS flare-ups. 

Related to a poor diet is a lack of adequate exercise… 

7. Not Enough Exercise

PCOS flare-ups get more severe with a sedentary lifestyle. As such, it’s important to incorporate enough cardio exercises into your life to help manage your PCOS. While you don’t have to become a die-hard fitness buff, it is important to start working out on a regular basis. 

Why Having Not Enough Exercise Triggers a Flare-up

Regular exercise that gets your heart pumping helps the body in a variety of ways. This type of exercise helps our bodies manage blood sugar, improves heart health, and assists with some hormonal conditions. These are all things that can help relieve PCOS flare-ups, which means not getting exercise leaves you vulnerable to more frequent flare-ups.

Diet and exercise are both part of a larger picture that revolves around weight and insulin, both of which are crucial to managing PCOS…

6. Weight Gain

Weight gain contributes to a wide range of poor health outcomes; making sure you are at a healthy weight for your body is a vital part of managing PCOS. You see, weight is linked directly to several health factors that are all potential PCOS triggers. 

Why Weight Gain Triggers a Flare-up

Too much weight can trigger a storm of potential PCOS flare-up triggers. Excessive weight leads to higher blood sugar, high blood pressure, and potential trouble with insulin, including type 2 diabetes. These conditions also exacerbate other triggers, including lack of exercise, stress, and poor sleep. Managing weight gain and staying at a healthy weight is therefore part of keeping PCOS flare-ups under control. 

The threat of type 2 diabetes from weight gain is real for many people, but it is a particular problem for people living with PCOS… 

5. Low Insulin Sensitivity 

PCOS corresponds to problems with insulin in the body. Insulin sensitivity is our body’s ability to utilize the insulin it produces. Now, a high insulin sensitivity is good for your health; it means you are fully able to utilize the insulin your body produces. A low sensitivity alternatively means your body struggles to property utilize insulin. 

Why Low Insulin Sensitivity Triggers a Flare-up

High levels of insulin can trigger PCOS. This insulin surge causes the ovaries to produce more androgen hormones, which can cause acne, hair growth, and make PCOS symptoms worse. Low insulin sensitivity is just a part of the overall insulin picture. 

There is a flip side to insulin sensitivity, known as insulin resistance, that is also important for people concerned about managing their PCOS flare-ups… 

4. High Insulin Resistance 

Insulin resistance is a condition where your cells have trouble utilizing insulin and, in turn, are less able to break down sugars in your blood. This event is the inverse of insulin sensitivity, although high insulin resistance creates many of the same problems as low sensitivity does.  

Why High Insulin Resistance Triggers a Flare-up

Having a high insulin resistance also causes the ovaries to produce too many androgens. In addition to the harmful effects we’ve already discussed, this event can contribute to higher chances for developing type 2 diabetes or worsening existing diabetic symptoms. 

Whether you have a high insulin resistance or a low insulin sensitivity, though, it’s all about your blood sugar when it comes to managing PCOS…

3. High Blood Glucose

Insulin helps the body process glucose in the bloodstream. Whether your blood glucose levels are high because of a bad diet or because of an insulin-related condition, you can face worse PCOS flare-ups. 

Why High Blood Glucose Triggers a Flare-up

When your blood glucose levels spike, your liver starts pumping out more insulin to help process all of these sugars. The types of sugar available in soda, candy, and other processed foods take longer to break down and, as such, require more insulin. These insulin problems are one of the leading physiological causes of PCOS. Besides causing the condition, high blood glucose also triggers flare-ups, too. 

Both insulin and androgens are types of hormones. Imbalances in the body’s natural hormone levels can make PCOS symptoms worse… 

2. Hormone Imbalances 

Our bodies rely on naturally balanced hormone levels to run smoothly. When our hormones become imbalanced, our bodies consequently have trouble handling illnesses, such as PCOS. In fact, this condition is considered a hormonal disorder, which means imbalance hormones are a major potential trigger. 

Why Hormone Imbalances Trigger a Flare-up

PCOS is caused by a variety of hormonal imbalances. Too little insulin can trigger a PCOS flare-up, for one. Having too many androgens can also cause PCOS flare-ups to become both more frequent and more intense. Estrogen imbalances can also contribute to PCOS flare-ups by changing regular ovulation and causing ovulation to become infrequent. 

Lastly, experiencing infrequent ovulation can be both a symptom of PCOS and a sign that flare-ups might be changing, too… 

1. Infrequent Ovulation

On its own, PCOS can upset the natural timing of ovulation, when the body releases an egg to be potentially fertilized. Having a regular ovulation cycle helps regulate hormones within the body. When ovulation comes at unpredictable intervals, however, it can be a sign of further hormonal imbalances as well as a contributor to other PCOS triggers like stress. 

Why Infrequent Ovulation Triggers a Flare-up

Infrequent or irregular ovulation can cause a few other PCOS triggers to worsen. Irregular ovulation can interrupt sleep schedules and create undue stress for a person to deal with, for starters. It can also impact other PCOS triggers that rely on hormonal balances. 

If your ovulation patterns start to change and you have already been diagnosed with PCOS, it’s a good sign that it’s time to contact your doctor. 


Living with PCOS is all about managing these potential triggers. Working with your doctor, gynecologist, and endocrinologist, you can come up with a plan that helps you manage your PCOS flare-ups. Make sure to track your triggers, enjoy a healthy diet, and start exercising to help take the edge off the worst PCOS flare-ups. 


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