In many cases, the first action that health care providers recommend for women with PCOS is that they make specific lifestyle changes, such as following a lower-calorie diet, losing weight, and getting more physical activity.1,2
Losing weight and being more physically active can minimize many PCOS symptoms and related conditions. Even a 5% weight loss can improve many symptoms of PCOS.3
No single diet or activity plan is known to work better than another in helping women with PCOS. Talk to your health care provider about designing a plan that's best for you.
Also called birth control pills or "the Pill," hormonal contraceptives can be used for the long-term treatment of women with PCOS who do not wish to become pregnant,1 and in fact they are the primary treatment for these women. Oral contraceptive pills contain a combination of the hormones estrogen and progestin. In women with PCOS, these hormones:1
Oral contraceptives also can help lower the risk of certain types of cancers.8 There is no one oral contraceptive that works best for women with PCOS, but those that are less androgenic are more effective at treating the symptoms of PCOS.9 Please note that oral contraceptives, like all medications, are associated with some level of risk for side effects, some of them serious. Discuss all possible side effects with your health care provider before making a final decision on a treatment.
These types of medications make the body more responsive to insulin and keep glucose levels more stable.1,10 In women with PCOS, these medications can help:
After four to six months of using these medications, women with PCOS may start ovulating naturally.12
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved insulin-sensitizing medications, such as metformin (pronounced met-FAWR-min), specifically for treating PCOS. Even so, your health care provider may use these medications to treat your symptoms. Talk to your health care provider about any concerns you may have about these medications.13
These medications either prevent the body from making androgens or limit the activities or effects of those hormones. In women with PCOS, anti-androgens can:
Because anti-androgens can cause birth defects, they are often taken with oral contraceptives to prevent pregnancy.14 Be sure to talk with your health care provider about the risks of these treatments, especially if you want to become pregnant.
As with insulin-sensitizing medications, anti-androgens are not approved by the FDA for the treatment of PCOS. At this time the best type of anti-androgen for treating PCOS symptoms is not known.
There are many ways to remove excess or unwanted hair or to hide this hair without actually removing it. Women with PCOS can use the methods below instead of or in combination with other approaches:13
Retinoids (pronounced RET-n-oids), antibacterial agents, and antibiotics may be used to treat acne. These products may be available in pills, creams, or gels. The specific treatment depends on the severity of the acne and how long it has been visible. Because retinoids can cause birth defects, you should not use them if you want to become pregnant.1
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