The condition affects about 5 million women of childbearing potential, but the exact cause is unknown. However, the overproduction of the male sex hormones, called androgens, can play a role. The Mayo Clinic suggests that if you experience at least two symptoms – irregular periods, high androgen levels or polycystic ovaries – PCOS may be to blame.
Many people with PCOS do not receive a diagnosis until a few months after stopping hormonal birth control. As a result, there is a lot of speculation on the internet about whether birth control pills cause PCOS. To answer your questions and clear up misunderstandings, we asked experts to weigh.
Birth control pills cause PCOS
The short answer: You do not need to worry. “Birth control pills do not cause PCOS,” says Cary L. Dicken, MD, FACOG, a reproductive endocrinologist and infertility specialist with RMA Long Island IVF. “Birth control pills are actually a good treatment for many women with PCOS.”
Although pill-induced PCOS is not a thing, Dr. Dicken says young people are often prescribed birth control for a variety of reasons and when they stop taking the pill later in life, they do not start a normal monthly period again. “An examination at that time could give a diagnosis of SPO, but taking the pill did not cause the SPO – he was there all the time and unknowingly was taking the contraceptive pill.”
Hormone contraceptive pills contain estrogen and progesterone that regulate menstrual cycles and help you avoid the symptoms of PCOS. “These hormones help regulate cycles and reduce the action of androgen hormones (eg testosterone, DHEAS), which are responsible for causing acne and hair loss, thus improving these symptoms,” she explains. Ilana Ressler, MD, a reproductive endocrinologist at Illume Fertility who is board certified in both obstetrics and gynecology as well as reproductive endocrinology and infertility. (Hair growth is the hair growth on the face, back and chest.)
How to deal with your symptoms
No matter what caused the PCOS symptoms, they are difficult to treat—and you have options.
Birth control can help in many ways, according to Dr. Dicken, and is a treatment that many people have chosen. But birth control may not be for you, and it’s okay. “In this case, inducing ovulation with drugs like clomiphene citrate and letrozole is often used,” he says. You can get them with a doctor’s prescription.
Dr. Ressler agrees that birth control is usually the first line of treatment and lifestyle changes can also help. Try to exercise consistently (as far as possible and healthy for you and your body) and incorporate many food groups. Some specific PCOS-friendly foods are high-fiber fruits and vegetables, fish, chickpeas, eggs, dark chocolate and tea. Meditation, vitamin B8 and vitamin D can also help your symptoms.
“If you have symptoms of PCOS or are not sure if you have it, see a reproductive endocrinologist who specializes in PCOS,” says Dr. Ressler. “While there is no cure, the symptoms can be treated successfully so you can live a healthy, asymptomatic life.”
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