PCOS Treatment

Medically Reviewed by Traci C. Johnson, MD on September 04, 2022
4 min read

Treatments can help you manage the symptoms of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) and lower your odds for long-term health problems such as diabetes and heart disease.

You and your doctor should talk about what your goals are so you can come up with a treatment plan. For example, if you want to get pregnant and are having trouble, then your treatment would focus on helping you conceive. If you want to tame PCOS-related acne, your treatment would be geared toward skin problems.

One of the best ways to deal with PCOS is to eat well and exercise regularly.

Many women with PCOS are overweight or obese. Losing just 5% to 10% of your body weight may ease some symptoms and help make your periods more regular. It may also help manage problems with blood sugar levels and ovulation.

Since PCOS could lead to high blood sugar, your doctor may want you to limit starchy or sugary foods. Instead, eat foods and meals that have plenty of fiber, which raise your blood sugar level slowly.

Staying active helps you control your blood sugar and insulin, too. And exercising every day will help you with your weight.

Many women need a combination of lifestyle changes and medications to treat PCOS. Your doctor will create a treatment plan for you tailored to treat your individual symptoms.

Menstrual problems

Birth control is the most common PCOS treatment for women who don't want to get pregnant. Hormonal birth control -- pills, a skin patch, vaginal ring, shots, or a hormonal IUD (intrauterine device) -- can help restore regular periods.

These birth control methods may also lower your chance of having endometrial cancer, in the inner lining of the uterus.

Taking just a hormone called progestin could help get your periods back on track. It doesn't prevent pregnancies or treat unwanted hair growth and acne. But it can lower the chance of uterine cancer.

Extra weight

When a healthy diet and regular exercise aren't enough, medications can make losing weight easier. Different drugs work in different ways. Your doctor will prescribe the medication they think will be the most successful for you. Options include:

Orlistat (Alli, Xenical): This drug stops your body from digesting some of the fat in your food, so it may also improve your cholesterol levels.

Metformin (Fortamet, Glucophage):This drug lowers insulin levels. It can help with weight loss and may prevent you from getting type 2 diabetes.

If you’re severely obese and other methods haven’t helped you reach a healthy weight, your doctor may suggest weight loss surgery. The change in your weight afterward can regulate your menstrual cycle and hormones and cut your odds of having diabetes.

Excessive hair growth

Sometimes PCOS causes unwanted hair growth, which your doctor can treat with medications and hair removal methods, such as:

Depilatories:These are creams, gels, and lotions that break down the protein structure of hair so it falls out of the skin. Follow the directions on the package.

Electrolysis or laser therapy:Electrolysis removes individual hairs with an electric current that destroys the root. Laser therapy destroys hair follicles. You'll need several sessions, and though some hair may come back, it should be finer and less noticeable.

Hormonal birth control:Birth control pills and other contraceptives that use hormones can also treat unwanted hair growth and acne.

Spironolactone (Aldactone): If birth control doesn't stop hair growth after 6 months, your doctor may prescribe this drug. It lowers the level of a type of sex hormone called androgens. But you shouldn't take it if you're pregnant or plan to become pregnant, because it can cause birth defects. Because of this, it is recommended that if you are taking spironolactone, you use two different types of contraception because it is very important that you don't get pregnant.

Fertility problems

Your doctor may prescribe medication to help you get pregnant. Medications that help with fertility include:

  • Clomiphene and letrozole (Femara), which encourage steps in the process that trigger ovulation
  • Shots of hormones called gonadotropins
  • Metformin

Other options to improve your fertility are:

Surgery: A procedure called ovarian drilling might make your ovaries work better when ovulation medications don't, but it's being done less often than it used to. The doctor makes a small cut in your belly and uses a tool called a laparoscope with a needle to poke your ovary and wreck a small part of it. The procedure changes your hormone levels and may make it easier for you to ovulate.

In vitro fertilization, or IVF:With this procedure your egg is fertilized outside of your body and then placed back inside your uterus. This may be the best way to get pregnant when you have PCOS, but it can be expensive.