Does contraception help with PCOS?

What is PCOS?

PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome) is a common condition that affects how the ovaries work. It’s not understood what the cause of the condition is, but it involves hormonal imbalance, ovarian cysts, and irregular menstrual cycles and periods. PCOS often runs in families, so if a relative has it, you have a greater chance of developing the condition.

The hormonal imbalances that are part of PCOS can mean people have a higher level of testosterone. It can also increase the amount of insulin in your body.

Insulin controls the sugar in your blood. People with PCOS are less responsive to insulin. This can cause higher than normal blood sugar, stimulating further insulin production.

What are the symptoms of PCOS?

Each of the symptoms of PCOS can range from mild to severe, and not everybody with PCOS will experience all of them:

  • acne or oily skin

  • increased body hair

  • hair loss from head

  • irregular periods, or no periods at all, as a result of not ovulating regularly

  • small ovarian cysts

  • weight gain

  • diabetes

  • problems with fertility and getting pregnant

  • increased risk of cancer of the lining of the womb (uterus)  

How do I treat PCOS?

There are a few key methods for treating the symptoms and effects of PCOS: 

  • lifestyle changes, like exercise and a balanced diet, can help reduce weight and manage some symptoms of PCOS

  • diabetes can be treated depending on its type, usually with insulin medication, diet and exercise

  • acne, excess hair growth and irregular periods can be treated with combined hormonal contraceptives like the pill or the hormonal coil

  • fertility treatments are available for women who have PCOS that affects their fertility

Contraception and PCOS

Although people with PCOS may have reduced fertility, they can still ovulate and still need contraception if they want to prevent pregnancy.

Combined contraception methods – the pill, the patch and the ring – can help with the symptoms of PCOS. The oestrogen in these methods can:

  • reduce acne

  • reduce excess hair growth 

  • reduce the risk of endometrial cancer

PCOS, BMI and contraception

While combined hormonal contraception can help with managing PCOS, this is complicated by the fact that PCOS also increases the likelihood of gaining weight. And it’s not safe to take combined methods of contraception if you have a high BMI (body mass index).

Evidence shows that changes to diet and exercise, and losing some weight, can help relieve the symptoms of PCOS. So you might want to try this as well as starting the combined pill or a similar combined contraceptive.

It can be harder to lose weight if you have PCOS, so it's important to be kind to yourself if weight loss is your goal. The could be a good place to start.

If you can’t take combined methods of contraception, the hormonal coil is an effective method that can also help to reduce the risk of endometrial cancer.

Last updated at: 22 February 2024
Published on: 17 November 2022