How is polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) treated?
The goals of treatment for PCOS are to:
- Keep the lining of the uterus healthy to prevent heavy and irregular periods, as well as other problems
- Reduce cosmetic signs such as acne or excess hair growth
- Screen for health issues related to PCOS, including high blood pressure, fatty liver disease, high cholesterol, diabetes, sleep disorders and depression
At Children's Colorado, our pediatric gynecologists provide patients with different treatment options for PCOS, including healthy lifestyle changes that teens and parents can manage on their own. However, when lifestyle changes aren't enough, medication may also be prescribed.
Option one: lifestyle changes
In girls who are overweight, or who are not overweight but are not exercising, the most important treatment is making lifestyle changes in diet and exercise. A 5-7% reduction of total body weight can control periods in many teens with PCOS. Patients and their families using this treatment method have access to lifestyle specialists in our multidisciplinary clinic to help implement these changes.
Option two: medicinal choices
Metformin: for girls who are overweight and have high insulin levels.
This medication can lower insulin levels and help the body use insulin more effectively. In 6-12 months, Metformin can help control periods, clear up acne and reduce hair growth. The most common side effect is nausea (upset stomach) but, generally, the drug is well tolerated. Metformin improves the health of the ovaries, and makes it easier to get pregnant. All young women who are sexually active should use birth control while taking Metformin.
Birth control pills: for girls who have irregular periods, severe hair growth, acne or those who are sexually active.
These pills work by decreasing the amount of free testosterone in the body. Regular periods may start within the first month. It is normal to have some irregular bleeding at first, but this will improve with time. It usually takes 3 months for acne to clear up and 6 months for decreases in hair growth.
Provera: a progesterone-only pill that is taken for 10 days to cause a period; best for teens who have not had a period in more than 3-6 months.
Spironolactone: works by blocking the action of testosterone.
This medication is used to minimize hair growth and acne in 6-12 months. Taking birth control while on spironolactone is suggested due to the risks of birth defects while taking this medication.
Rogaine: an over-the-counter product that blocks the hair follicle from "seeing" testosterone.
It's used for balding and the loss of hair at the front of the scalp. It takes 3-9 months to work and can be purchased at drug stores or grocery stores.
Laser hair removal: for girls with light skin tone and dark hair growth.
There is a dermatologist in our multidisciplinary clinic to discuss laser hair removal, if desired.
Vaniqa: a prescription cream that can decrease hair growth.
Hair growth is minimized only while using the cream. It does not change hair growth over time.
Long-acting, progestin-only methods
Both the progesterone-IUD (Mirena) and the under-the-skin implant (Nexplanon) provide a steady, low-dose of progestin. Progestin keeps the lining of the uterus healthy and reduces menstrual bleeding. The IUD works for 5 years and the implant works for 3 years. Either method can be removed at any time.
Why choose Children's Colorado for your child's polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)?
The pediatric experts in the Department of Gynecology place a strong emphasis on communicating with adolescents and their families in caring and sensitive ways. We recognize that the teenage years are a difficult time in a young woman's life, and struggling with irregular periods and obesity as a result of PCOS can be very difficult.
Although PCOS is a common condition, the diagnosis and management of adolescents with PCOS is very different from adults. It requires a unique expertise and medical training in pediatric healthcare. The efforts of health professionals from several different departments, including gynecology, endocrinology, dermatology, psychology, lifestyle medicine and nutrition are needed to effectively manage this condition.
The multidisciplinary PCOS Clinic at Children's Colorado provides you and your daughter with direct access to the all of these medical specialists at one location, in order to ensure your teen is receiving not only the best care possible, but that treatment is tailored specifically to her individual needs.