Metformin to Treat PCOS

Metformin is a medication used to treat type 2 diabetes, but doctors also sometimes use it to treat other medical conditions that are linked with insulin resistance. One example is using metformin to treat PCOS, or polycystic ovary syndrome, a common disorder that affects up to one in ten women.

What is PCOS?

Polycystic ovary syndrome is a condition associated with multiple small cysts on the ovaries. Other signs and symptoms include infertility problems, excess body hair, irregular periods and weight gain. Women with PCOS have higher levels of the hormone testosterone in their bloodstream and often have elevated insulin levels due to insulin resistance. When insulin levels are high, it stimulates the ovaries to produce more testosterone. This makes the symptoms of polycystic ovary syndrome worse. Thus, doctors sometimes prescribe metformin for women with polycystic ovary disease to help lower their insulin levels, thereby improving their PCOS symptoms.

Metformin to Treat PCOS

Research looking at the effectiveness of metformin for treating PCOS has been mixed. Women who have polycystic ovary syndrome usually don’t ovulate, which makes it difficult for them to conceive. According to a meta-analysis published in the Cochrane Database that looked at 13 different studies on metformin and PCOS, metformin increased the frequency of ovulation in women with this syndrome and made it easier for them to get pregnant. Based on this and the fact that the risks of using metformin are low, some experts recommend giving women with PCOS who want to get pregnant a trial of metformin as long as they’re otherwise healthy.
Metformin for PCOS may have other benefits as well. It helps to lower testosterone levels, which reduces the excess body hair that women with PCOS have, although it may take several months to see results. Women with polycystic ovary syndrome are also frequently overweight, and metformin helps some women lose weight by reducing their appetite. Metformin may be used in conjunction with other medications used to treat PCOS such as the birth control pill or clomiphene in women who are trying to conceive.

Metformin seems to be safe during pregnancy for women who go on to conceive. Some doctors recommend that women stay on it throughout their pregnancy. Women with PCOS have a greater risk of miscarriage, and some research shows that metformin reduces this risk. Preliminary studies show that metformin doesn’t increase the risk of fetal abnormalities or pregnancy-related problems, although more research is needed in this area.

Metformin to Treat PCOS: The Bottom Line?

There are still lots of unanswered questions about metformin and its role in treating PCOS. It will be most effective in women who make the appropriate dietary changes to lose weight and follow a regular exercise program to help lower insulin levels. If you have PCOS, talk to your doctor about whether metformin is right for you.