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Treatment Options for Women With PCOS

written by: Simone Castello • edited by: BStone • updated: 4/4/2011

If you suffer from PCOS, there are a wide range of treatments available that can address your symptoms, whether it's acne, hirsutism or infertility.

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    How Can PCOS Be Treated?

    Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a common condition that affects around 5 percent of women. High amounts of testosterone (male hormones) are produced in the ovaries, leading to irregular periods and fertility problems, acne and hirsutism (excessive body hair). In some women the ovaries are covered by several harmless cysts that can be seen during an ultrasound scan, hence the name (polycystic).

    PCOS sufferers might develop high cholesterol levels, high blood pressure (hypertension) and insulin resistance — the latter is responsible for weight gain and increases the risk of contracting Type 2 diabetes. If you are overweight, there is also a higher risk of contracting heart disease.

    What is the treatment for PCOS? There is no magic cure for PCOS, so sufferers are treated depending on the symptoms. If you are overweight, you will be given advice on nutrition and exercise — losing weight can ease fertility problems and the risk of diabetes and heart disease. If you are considering having a baby, you can choose between fertility treatments or other treatments that stimulate or normalize ovulation.

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    Fertility Treatments

    If no ovulation occurs, you can be prescribed clomid, a fertility drug administered by mouth. There are some side effects, such as a risk of a multiple pregnancy (having twins or triplets). Also prolonged use of this drug is not recommended.

    Some IVF clinics use gonadotropins, which are injected. Aside from the risk of a multiple pregnancy, you are at risk for depression, abdominal pain and allergic reactions.

    If ovulation is occurring but is irregular, you might be advised to try intrauterine insemination (IUI), which involves placing your partner's sperm into your uterus to aid conception.

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    Other Treatments for PCOS Sufferers

    In some women suffering from polycystic ovary syndrome, a hormone treatment can be effective. This involves taking the contraceptive pill or progestogen-only pill to regulate your menstrual cycle.

    This treatment can lower your risk of cancer of the endometrium, if you don’t have periods. In healthy women uterine lining forms to house a fertilized egg and is shed during a period. If you have PCOS and don’t ovulate, the lining is not discarded so your uterus gets more exposed to the female hormone estrogen, whose dominance has been linked to women’s cancers.

    A diabetes drug called metformin is sometimes used to regulate ovulation. This is because insulin produces the male hormone testosterone, which hinders ovulation. However this medication is still under review by the Food and Drug Administration.

    PCOS can also be treated with surgery, using a minor procedure called laparoscopic ovarian drilling (LOD). Performed under general anesthesia, LOD can normalize your hormone imbalance and foster ovulation.

    If hirsutism and acne are the symptoms you are addressing, treatment will aim to regulate the production of testosterone. This is done through hormone treatment or through diabetes drugs, if your insulin levels are too high.

    Further Reading

    Understanding Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome

    Tips for Women Who Have PCOS and Want to Have a Baby

    PCOS and Difficulty Getting Pregnant

    References

    PCOS - WomensHealth.Gov - US Department of Health

    PCOS - American Society for Reproductive Medicine

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