Many therapies target specific symptoms of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), but may not address the underlying cause.
Traditionally, physicians have prescribed oral contraceptives (birth control pills) to regulate menstrual periods in women with PCOS. Oral contraceptives contain a combination of hormones (estrogen and progesterone). Used properly, oral contraceptives can assure that women menstruate every four weeks.
Because they cause women to menstruate regularly (and, thus, shed the endometrial lining), oral contraceptives as treatment for PCOS help to reduce a woman's risk of endometrial cancer.
Anti-androgenic agents, such as spironolactone, block the effect of androgens (male hormones, including testosterone). In high doses, anti-androgens can reduce unwanted hair growth and acne.
Many assisted-reproduction techniques are available for women who have difficulty conceiving because of PCOS. Through our experts in reproductive endocrinology, the Center for PCOS offers a full spectrum of standard and innovative fertility therapies: from oral and injectible medications that stimulate ovulation, to advanced methods of in vitro fertilization including use of donor eggs.
Rather than focusing on relieving specific symptoms, the newer treatments aim at what may be the root cause of PCOS, i.e., insulin resistance. Many of these new therapies are designed to lower insulin levels, thus reducing production of testosterone.
New evidence suggests that using medications which lower insulin levels in the blood may be effective in restoring menstruation and reducing some of the health risks associated with PCOS. Lowering insulin levels also helps to reduce the production of testosterone, thus diminishing many of the symptoms associated with excess testosterone: hair growth on the body, alopecia (scalp hair loss), acne, and, possibly, cardiovascular risk.
Pioglitazone (Actos®) and Rosiglitazone (Avandia®) are insulin-sensitizing agents that improve glucose tolerance and insulin resistance. These drugs are approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the treatment of diabetes. Although they are not approved for treatment of PCOS, they have been shown to be effective for this purpose in many studies.
Metformin (Glucophage®). Metformin is an insulin-lowering drug. It is approved by the FDA as a treatment for diabetes, but is not yet FDA-approved for use in treating PCOS.In clinical trials, metformin has been shown to be very effective in restoring menstrual cycles in many, but not all, patients with PCOS.
Physicians and scientists at the University of Chicago Medicine are actively pursuing new solutions for treating PCOS. Our clinical studies are supported by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Many of these trials are run through our Clinical Research Center (CRC) at the medical center.
Currently, we are conducting studies on the following:
- Causes for the increased risk of diabetes in women with PCOS
- The familial basis for PCOS and the related pattern of diabetes
- Studies of the relationship between obstructive sleep apnea and PCOS
For more information, or to determine if you are eligible for any of these studies, please contact us at (773) 702-4295.
In addition to our ongoing clinical trials, we maintain a current database of more than 700 patients with PCOS. This helps us to monitor progress and changes that may occur over many years of treatment, and to identify new trends in the disease.
Many non-medical approaches can relieve or reduce specific symptoms. These include:
Losing weight can be quite challenging for women with PCOS. Weight loss achieved through dietary changes and exercise can help women with PCOS in several ways. Like men and women without PCOS, losing weight reduces a person's risk of cardiovascular disease and non-insulin dependent (type 2) diabetes. Weight loss also helps to lower the level of insulin which, in turn, reduces the ovaries' production of testosterone. Many women with PCOS follow a low-carbohydrate diet designed to lose or maintain their weight.
Electrolysis can eliminate or decrease unwanted hair. During electrolysis, individual hair follicles are destroyed by using an electric current.
Laser Hair Removal
The removal of body hair through the use of laser treatment appears to be both effective and permanent.
Some women with PCOS find relief from symptoms through alternative therapies such as herbs, acupuncture, homeopathic remedies and other alternative approaches. These therapies are not regulated so care must be exercised in deciding whether to use these treatments.