fbpx Does Birth Control Cause PCOS?
A purple container of birth control pills sits against an orange and teal background.
A purple container of birth control pills sits against an orange and teal background.

Does Birth Control Cause PCOS?

Contrary to comments on social media, post-pill polycystic ovary syndrome is not a thing.
Coralle Skye
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Coralle Skye

Social media brings awareness to many health conditions, which can have good and bad repercussions. The latest myth being spread by "influencers" online is that taking hormonal contraceptives causes infertility and polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).

Does birth control cause PCOS? Experts say there is no truth to this claim.

"I think this myth is kept alive by those who benefit or profit from perpetuating it and causing fear," said Amy Roskin, M.D., an OB-GYN and the chief medical officer at Seven Starling, a women's health digital platform with headquarters in New York City.

"Pill-induced PCOS" and "post-pill PCOS" are terms that get thrown around the internet, but they are not medically recognized conditions. In fact, physicians often recommend birth control pills to help treat the symptoms of PCOS.

Additionally, there is no connection between birth control pills and infertility, added Monte Swarup, M.D., a board-certified OB-GYN and founder of HPD Rx, a health supplement company in Santa Monica, California. Problems with conceiving are more likely to be linked to the natural decline of fertility that begins in the early 30s, he explained.

Of course, fertility is also affected by other factors, such as underlying medical issues, blocked or damaged fallopian tubes, endometriosis, and poor diet and lifestyle choices. If someone is struggling to conceive, then it's likely to be caused by one or more of these factors and not from taking contraceptives with hormones in the past.

If you are experiencing any symptoms after stopping birth control, it's important to speak with your doctor. Most symptoms after going off birth control are an expected response to discontinuing a medication and will naturally resolve soon. In some cases, your birth control may have been alleviating symptoms of an undiagnosed, underlying condition. Either way, your doctor can provide appropriate testing to help you make a medically informed decision regarding next steps.

What to know about PCOS

PCOS is a hormonal disorder that can cause failure to ovulate, cysts on the ovaries and insulin resistance, all of which can affect fertility. The most common symptoms are weight gain, excessive hair growth, irregular periods and infertility. While there are treatment options available to manage the condition, the cause is still unclear. Scientists believe a combination of environmental, genetic and lifestyle factors are to blame.

"Long story short, we still don't know the exact causes of PCOS," Roskin confirmed. "It seems to be a complex metabolic/hormonal process and there also seems to be a genetic or inherited component as well."

Studies indicate PCOS rates are increasing, Roskin added. Some scientists link this trend to increasing type 2 diabetes rates, so there could be a connection between the two, especially as many people with PCOS struggle with weight gain, a risk factor for diabetes.

It's impossible to prevent PCOS or predict who is more likely to be affected. However, there is evidence to suggest it's hereditary, so if you have a mother or sister who has PCOS, you may be at an increased risk of developing it, too.

If you have any symptoms of polycystic ovary syndrome, you should speak to your doctor right away so they can begin testing. Your doctor will ask you questions related to your experience, and if they feel it's suitable, they may arrange for a blood test, ultrasound and pelvic examination. The sooner you start to manage the condition, the better the outcome could be.

How does birth control help manage PCOS?

Birth control pills are one of the most common treatment options for PCOS. While they won't cure the condition, they can help get symptoms under control.

"Birth control pills help to deliver contraception but also deliver consistent progesterone," Swarup explained.

People with PCOS need progesterone to ovulate consistently, but failure to ovulate can lead to endometrial cancer. Birth control pills work by regulating the menstrual cycle, which can lead to regular periods and consistent ovulation.

"Birth control pills also reduce the production of androgens [a sex hormone], thus, diminishing the risk of metabolic disorders associated with PCOS, decreasing hair growth and acne," Swarup added.

Many birth control options are available, so speak to your doctor to find what works best for you.

How to treat PCOS without birth control

While birth control pills are an effective treatment for PCOS for many people, they aren't suitable for everyone. If you have diabetes, heart disease or high blood pressure, hormonal treatments may not be recommended. Obviously, if you are trying to conceive, your doctor won't advise birth control, either. Various other treatments are available, but only you and your doctor can find the right one based on your symptoms, Roskin explained.

If you are struggling with acne, then acne medications can be prescribed. If you have high cholesterol, you may be given medicine that can lower your levels.

If you are trying to get pregnant, a medicine called clomiphene citrate (Clomid) can be prescribed to encourage ovulation. It's believed that approximately 38 percent of women become pregnant when taking this medication. If it is unsuccessful or you experience side effects, you should speak to your doctor about alternative options.

Some people with PCOS report positive results with natural remedies, including grape seed extract, quercetin, guar gum and vitamins. However, natural remedies can have side effects as well, so you should always check in with a healthcare professional before taking them to make sure the supplement is safe for you and that you know the proper dosage.

Weight loss can improve PCOS symptoms, so your doctor may recommend exercising more frequently and changing your diet. A diet that revolves around whole foods and plenty of vegetables can reduce some symptoms. You should note that weight loss is more difficult for people with PCOS, and in some cases, medications or underlying health issues can contribute to weight gain. If you are struggling to lose weight, speak to your doctor as they can run further tests to check your thyroid function, liver and gut health. From there, you can work on a plan to manage your symptoms.