Which Birth Control Methods Help in the Treatment of PCOS Symptoms?


To treat the symptoms of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, doctors may prescribe hormonal birth control methods. Some of the common PCOS symptoms that the pills treat are acne and unwanted hair growth. There are several types of contraceptives for PCOS treatment. These range from progestin-only and combined tablets containing progestin and estrogen. The doctor upon examination of your health may suggest you take none at all, or take one and avoid the other.

In the below-given post we will discuss Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, birth control for PCOS treatment, and which treatment options are suitable for you.

What is Polycystic Ovary Syndrome in Women?

PCOS is basically an endocrine disorder. Your endocrine system has glands secreting and regulating hormones, such as the estrogen and testosterone. If you have been diagnosed with PCOS, then there is a hormonal imbalance. This imbalance causes abnormally high levels of testosterone or the male sex hormone. Also, the hormonal imbalance disrupts the normal functioning of ovaries. This results in the development of small cysts in them.

  • This disorder is much more common these days. It affects 1 in every 10 women of childbearing age. Due to PCOS, it is possible that you get irregular or no periods. This is due to lack of ovulation or proper ovulation process.
  • Polycystic ovary syndrome is also a leading cause of infertility. The causes and symptoms of PCOS are sometimes similar, such as weight gain and stress, etc.
  • Thus, if the symptoms and causes to this disorder are not kept in check, the problem can increase.

There is no permanent cure of PCOS. But, birth control methods can be used to control or ease its symptoms. As oral contraceptive pills regulate your menstrual cycle, some of the PCOS symptoms can be reduced significantly. With this treatment you may get regular and lighter periods, reduced cramps, clearer skin, reduced unwanted hair growth, reduced risk to ovarian cancer, and other conditions.

What Are the Symptoms of PCOS?

Symptoms of affected women vary from a case to another. Some of the PCOS symptoms include:

  • Insulin resistance leading to diabetes symptoms
  • Acne on the skin
  • Obesity and weight gain
  • Excess body hair especially on the face
  • Heavy or painful periods
  • Irregular periods due to no or delayed ovulation
  • Headache, thinning hair, difficulty sleeping
  • Mood swings, fatigue, problems with concentration

How Hormonal Contraceptives Reduce Effects of PCOS?

Birth control does not permanently cure PCOS. Rather, it is helpful to relieve some of the PCOS symptoms. The contraceptive method helps to treat polycystic ovary syndrome in the following ways:

  • It causes regular ovulation and thus protects the wellbeing of the uterus. If your body does not regularly ovulate, then the uterine tissue built-up increases. This may cause endometrial hyperplasia. Thus, this condition can increase the risk of uterine cancer.
  • To prevent hyperplasia, doctors may prescribe a combined contraceptive. Here, the progestin works against estrogen.
  • The contraceptive also reduces excessive androgen (male hormone) testosterone level in the blood. This helps to reduce male pattern baldness (androgenic alopecia), acne, unwanted facial and body hair (hirsutism).
  • At the end of it, the birth control measure keeps away unwanted pregnancy and regulates ovulation cycles, making it easier to track.

What is a Combined Hormonal Birth Control?

The combined hormonal contraceptives have progestin and estrogen. This is the first-line treatment for PCOS symptoms. These are especially prescribed to treat irregular periods and increased androgen level. The doctor can prescribe you oral contraceptive pills, an intravaginal ring, or a transdermal patch. Efficacy of these methods has been compared in the past. 

The best form of birth control for PCOS largely depends on your health, preference, and what the doctor feels is appropriate for you.

Below-given is information about different forms of pills, their different actions and ingredients:

  • Triphasic: There are 3 different doses of estrogen and progestin. This changes almost every 7 days.
  • Monophasic: In this type of pill, the hormone level remains consistent.
  • Biphasic: Here, the progestin increases halfway through the cycle.

What must be the Level of Estrogen in Contraceptive Pills?

Birth control tablets are further segregated as per the estrogen level in each pill:

  • Regular-dose is between 30 mcg and 35 mcg of estrogen. Low dose pill contains 20 mcg (micrograms) of estrogen with progestin.
  • High dose tablets contain 50 mcg estrogens. High dosage can increase the risk of irregular periods.
  • Lowest dose of this hormone is sufficient to prevent pregnancy. It is also less likely to result in side effects such as mood swings, weight gain, and bloating.
  • However, low estrogen dose pills may also carry a risk of breakthrough bleeding.

What must be the Level of Progestin in Birth Control Pills?

The doctor can suggest a birth control pill depending on the type of progestin used in the combination pill. As some of the tablets may have a high androgenic activity, these may not be prescribed for PCOS. This is because such pills may aggravate facial hair growth or acne.

What Are Progestin-Only Pills?

If you experience abnormal menstruation but do have no androgenic PCOS symptoms, then your doctor may suggest a progestin-only birth control pill. There are two major types in such medications. These prevent conception and uterine hyperplasia without altering the testosterone levels.

  • The first type is the mini pill or a hormonal intrauterine device (IUD). This is a continuous treatment option.
  • The second type is the intermittent therapy through an oral medication. You will have to take this treatment for 12 to 14 consecutive days in a month.

What Are the Contraindications?

When a doctor prescribes a birth control for treating PCOS, he/she will take into account your lifestyle, symptoms that affect you, and existing health conditions. The healthcare practitioner may not suggest hormonal contraceptives if you have high blood pressure, stroke, history of heart disease, diabetes, or if you are over the age of 35, and smoke. 

The contraceptives also interfere with efficacy of medicines if you have had a major surgery that will have you immobilized for a long period.

What Are the Non-pill Treatments for PCOS?

Though birth control pills are the first-line treatments for PCOS symptoms, the tablets are not convenient for every woman. If you want to look for non-pill combination options, which effectively blend estrogen and progestin, then speak to your doctor. There are a few progestin-only options that have fewer side effects and risks, helping with symptoms of Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome.

  • Hormonal Skin Patch: You have to apply the patch on your skin. The patch releases progestin and estrogen in the bloodstream. It is 91% successful in protecting you against an unwanted pregnancy.
  • Birth Control Implant: It is a small rod which the doctor will insert under your skin, especially the upper arm. It is 99% successful. The implant releases progestin alone. It is useful to prevent pregnancy for 3 years or more.
  • IUD or Intrauterine Device: This is a small device that the doctor inserts in your uterus. This device releases only the progestin hormone. It is 99% effective. For PCOS treatment, the doctor will fit in a hormonal IUD than a copper IUD. The latter does not reduce PCOS symptoms.
  • Progestin Injection: The doctor will inject the hormone progestin into your body once in every 3 months. This method is 94% successful in preventing pregnancy and good for PCOS.
  • Vaginal Ring: You have to wear the ring inside your vagina. The ring releases estrogen and progestin. It has an efficacy rate of 91% in preventing pregnancy, when used properly.

Final Thoughts

Management of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome is done by considering its symptoms, including obesity and impact on the glucose level in blood. The doctor may advise a birth control method for PCOS symptoms based on case to case. You must properly follow the prescription medication or methods suggested by the doctor. If you do so, then the symptoms of PCOS may significantly reduce. However, you may have to also bring some changes in your lifestyle and dietary habits for better effects. It is best to include daily workout and stick to a nutritious diet for reducing PCOS symptoms.