Polycystic ovary syndrome is a hormone disorder that causes numerous symptoms, including infertility. Hormonal birth control that contains both estrogen and progestin can help rebalance the hormones, alleviating many of the symptoms.

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is an endocrine disorder that affects 1 in 10 people of childbearing age, according to the Office of Women’s Health of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. The endocrine system consists of glands that secrete and regulate hormones, such as testosterone and estrogen.

People with PCOS have a hormonal imbalance that causes unusually high levels of male sex hormones. This imbalance changes the way the ovaries function and can cause them to develop many small cysts.

People with PCOS may also not ovulate or do so infrequently. PCOS is a leading cause of infertility.

Fast facts on PCOS and birth control:

  • Doctors do not yet have a cure for PCOS.
  • A widely used treatment for PCOS is combination birth control.
  • The symptoms of PCOS vary from person-to-person.
  • Birth control pills help regulate the menstrual period, making it more predictable.
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PCOS is a common hormonal condition that affects between 5–15% of people with uteruses.

This condition causes polycystic ovaries, irregular menstruation, and causes the body to release more androgens than usual.

Research published in 2019 suggests that people with a risk of developing PCOS through genetics have a higher risk factor if they also have obesity or experience significant weight gain.

People with PCOS are more likely to also have the following conditions:

  • obesity
  • metabolic syndrome
  • infertility
  • depression
  • changes in glucose tolerance
  • type 2 diabetes
  • increase in cardiovascular risk
  • obstructive sleep apnea
  • nonalcoholic fatty liver
  • endometrial cancer

On average it takes around 1 year to receive a diagnosis for this condition. Additionally, it can take several visits to different healthcare professionals to find one who is able to diagnose PCOS.

Some of the symptoms of PCOS include:

Symptoms vary and may be mild or so severe that they disrupt a person’s life.

With treatment, the symptoms can be managed and may disappear.

Hormonal birth control is considered to be combination birth control when it contains two hormones. These hormones are usually estrogen and a synthetic form of progesterone called progestin.

Learn more about hormonal birth control here.

These combination pills can also regulate some hormonal imbalances by increasing a person’s estrogen levels and decreasing the amount of testosterone their body produces.

Due to combination birth control pills containing two hormones that can adjust hormone issues, they are the preferred choice for many prescribing doctors.

However, not all people can safely take combination pills. Hormonal birth control pills are safe, but they do present some risks including:

  • A greater risk of diabetes: This is a consideration for people with PCOS who are already at risk of diabetes.
  • A risk of cardiovascular issues: This includes dangerous blood clots in the legs. Those with PCOS who have obesity may have an elevated risk. If they smoke, the risk rises.
  • Weight gain: Some evidence suggests that birth control pills can cause weight gain, but other studies disagree. People who already have obesity may be reluctant to take birth control pills. Weight gain can worsen PCOS symptoms.

For some people, a pill known as the minipill may be a better choice. Minipills contain just one hormone, progestin. They are less likely to cause side effects than combination pills. However, when they do cause side effects, these can be the same.

Combination birth control pills stop the ovaries from releasing an egg, which prevents pregnancy. They also thicken the mucus of the cervix. If the ovaries were to release an egg, this thickened mucus could prevent pregnancy.

The same hormones that prevent ovulation can also keep male hormone levels low and raise female hormone levels. Combination pills for PCOS include:

  • Alesse
  • April
  • Aranelle
  • Aviane
  • Enpresse
  • Estrostep
  • Lessina
  • Levlen
  • Levlite
  • Levora
  • Loestrin
  • Mircette
  • Natazia
  • Nordette
  • Lo/Ovral
  • Ortho-Novum
  • Ortho Tri-Cyclen
  • Yasmin
  • Yaz

Some pills, such as Loestrin, have lower estrogen levels. These low estrogen levels can reduce the severity of some side effects but may also be less effective against symptoms of PCOS.

Someone with PCOS should talk with a doctor about the right amount of estrogen based on their symptoms and other risk factors.

Learn more about the best places to buy birth control online here.

Pills for painful periods

People who get some relief from combination pills but who continue to experience painful or heavy periods may wish to switch to a pill that reduces the frequency of their period.

The following pills can make people have less frequent periods:

  • Lybrel
  • Seasonique
  • Seasonale


People who develop unpleasant side effects from taking a combination pill may wish to switch to a minipill. In some cases, doctors recommend that people try a minipill first.

Those who smoke, who have a history of cardiovascular problems, who are very overweight, or who have diabetes may have fewer side effects with a progestin-only pill.

Combination and progestin-only pills are highly effective at preventing pregnancy. At typical usage rates, which factors in both correct and incorrect use, they are about 91% effective.

Birth control pills are not right for everyone, as some people find it inconvenient to take a pill every day. Non-pill combination options that blend progestin with estrogen tend to be the most effective. Progestin-only options may pose fewer risks and side effects.

The non-pill alternatives to birth control for PCOS include:

  • Birth control injection: This injects the hormone progestin into the body every three months. At typical usage rates, it is 94% effective at preventing pregnancy with typical use.
  • Birth control patch: This is applied to the skin and releases both estrogen and progestin into the bloodstream. With typical usage, it is about 91% effective at preventing pregnancy with typical use. In those at or over 90 kg (198 lb), it may be less effective.
  • Birth control ring: This is worn inside the vagina, where it releases progestin and estrogen. It is 91% effective with typical use.
  • Birth control implant: This is a small rod that a doctor inserts under the skin. It releases progestin only and can prevent pregnancy for three years or longer. At typical usage, it is more than 99 percent effective with typical use.
  • Intrauterine device (IUD): This device is inserted into the uterus by a doctor and releases the hormone progestin. It is more than 99 % effective with typical use. Another IUD contains copper only and does not release hormones or help with symptoms of PCOS.

Nonhormonal birth control options, such as condoms, natural family planning, or diaphragms, will not help with symptoms of PCOS.

Learn more about different types of birth control here.

When choosing birth control, people may consider:

  • Side effects: All medications can come with side effects. Common side effects of birth control, for example, can include changes in period length and heaviness, breast tenderness, and potential weight gain.
  • Lifestyle: It is important for a person to find a form of birth control that they find convenient and well tolerated. Some people may prefer using a method that does not require taking a pill every day.
  • Combination or singular hormone: Different hormones can have different effects on PCOS symptoms. People should discuss the best form of birth control with a healthcare professional. It is also important that people discuss their symptoms and ask for a different form of birth control if they do not tolerate the ones a doctor suggests.

Here we answer some common questions about birth control.

Can birth control help PCOS weight loss?

Hormonal contraceptives can cause weight gain. However, scientists do not understand the mechanism behind this.

Combining hormonal birth control with metformin can help reduce body weight. People should contact a healthcare professional to discuss whether this combination of medication, alongside a nutritious and balanced diet, is suitable for their weight loss goals.

Can birth control worsen PCOS symptoms?

A 2019 study found that birth control may increase the risk of developing conditions that scientists associate with PCOS, such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and obesity.

If a person believes birth control is worsening their PCOS symptoms, they should contact a doctor as soon as possible to discuss other treatments.

Does birth control actually help PCOS?

Combination birth control is one of the most effective medications to help ease PCOS symptoms.

However, people should discuss their options with a healthcare professional to determine which treatment method is the best for their circumstances.

Hormonal birth control can help with PCOS symptoms, but it is not the only option. Lifestyle changes, such as maintaining a moderate weight and regular exercise, may help.

Some people may also try supplements or special diets. Certain drugs, such as Metformin, may help when birth control does not work.

For those trying to become pregnant, the medication Clomid can encourage the body to ovulate.

People with PCOS should talk with their healthcare team about their symptoms and their treatment goals to create a comprehensive treatment strategy. They can also ask a doctor to refer them to a specialist for further advice.

Birth control can be a part of a treatment approach for PCOS, but it does not have to be the only option.