Are Birth Control Pills an Effective Long-term PCOS Treatment - or Not?

Are you one of those who has great faith in birth control pills for controlling polycystic ovarian syndrome? If so, new research from Calcutta Medical College in India might interest you. They gave 42 women with PCOS birth control pills for one year. The women were assessed at six months and again at one year.

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At the six month point, the women had improvements in their hirsutism, acne, and testosterone levels.
However, at the end of one year, there were no further improvements beyond what had occurred during the first six months. In addition, taking birth control pills did not result in weight loss, reduction of belly fat, dark skin patches, or blood sugar or insulin levels.

In other words, this study suggests that birth control pills are limited in their ability to correct all of the hormonal and metabolic problems associated with polycystic ovary syndrome. Secondly, their beneficial effects plateau within six months.

Source: Bhattacharya SM et al, Effects of ethinyl estradiol and desogestrel on clinical and metabolic parameters in Indian patients with polycystic ovary syndrome, J Obstet Gynaecol Res. 2011 Nov 9. [Epub ahead of print]

Did Taking Birth Control Pills When I Was Younger Contribute to My PCOS?

Q: "Now that I want to start a family, the doctors are finding answers to the problems. My mother thinks that it is because I was taking the birth control pill from age 19 to 25. Can this be a contributing factor for PCOS? Wouldn't this in turn help the problem? I was on 4 different kinds of birth control pills and still none of them made me regular."

A: There is concern among some physicians about the use of oral contraceptives and the long-term impact on women with PCOS. The Pill reduces acne and hirsutism by inhibiting ovarian steroid hormone production. Oral contraceptives are also used to "flush" the endometrium (create a bleeding episode once a month) and reduce the suggested, but unproven, increased risk of endometrial cancer in PCOS.

One study of 16 non-diabetic women with high testosterone levels showed that those treated with oral contraceptives developed a poorer glucose tolerance over six months. Two of the women actually developed diabetes. This raises doubts about the safety of oral contraceptives for treating PCOS. The use of oral contraceptives to treat menstrual irregularities should be halted until further studies specifically determine the long-term effects of oral contraceptives on women with PCOS.

Source: Nader S, et al, The effect of a desogestrel-containing oral contraceptive on glucose tolerance and leptin concentrations in hyperandrogenic women, J Clin Endocrinol Metab, 1997, 82: 3074-3077.

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