Some people experience PCOS symptoms after stopping hormonal birth control. The informal name for this is post-pill PCOS. These symptoms are typically temporary and resolve without medical intervention.
“The pill” is a broad term referring to oral contraceptive medications that help prevent pregnancy. There are many types of pills containing different combinations of hormonal ingredients.
Stopping hormonal birth control cannot cause PCOS. Additionally, medical experts do not recognize post-pill PCOS as an official condition.
That said, stopping hormonal birth control can temporarily cause certain symptoms typically associated with PCOS in some people. It can also lead to some people finding out they have PCOS after birth control previously masked the symptoms.
This article will explore the link between stopping hormonal birth control and the onset of PCOS symptoms, the effects of hormones on PCOS, diagnosis, and when a person may wish to speak with a doctor.
Hormonal contraceptives contain ingredients that affect how the body produces and processes hormones. These ingredients significantly affect hormonal functions. The body can become used to consistently receiving the medication and processing its ingredients.
Stopping hormonal contraceptives means the body has to adjust to working without the medication, which can lead to changing hormone levels within the body. This may cause a temporary hormone imbalance as the body adjusts.
In a person who does not have PCOS, any symptoms they experience should resolve as the body adjusts to correct the hormonal imbalance.
However, if a person has used hormonal contraception for a long time, they may have been unknowingly managing PCOS symptoms caused by hypoandrogenism with the medication. When they stop using it, the previously masked symptoms may start to occur.
Because of its beneficial effects on PCOS symptoms, doctors commonly recommend hormonal contraception as a method for managing the condition.
People with PCOS can experience a wide range of symptoms, many of which relate to hormonal imbalances. However, people without PCOS can experience symptoms related to hormonal fluctuations as well, such as hormonal acne around their period.
A hormone imbalance from stopping a hormonal contraceptive may trigger certain hormone-related symptoms. For example, antiandrogenic hormonal contraceptives can reduce the amount of androgen in the body. If a person stops taking a hormonal contraceptive, the amount of androgen in their body may increase in response, leading to androgenic symptoms.
- Polycystic ovaries: This is where the ovaries become enlarged and develop fluid-filled sacs. These sacs cannot always release eggs, which means ovulation may not occur. Some people may not ovulate regularly because of this, while others may experience anovulation (no ovulation).
- Acanthosis nigricans: This skin condition is a pigmentation (skin color) disorder. It causes patches of skin to darken, particularly around areas with folds, such as the armpits, neck, and under the breasts.
- Insulin resistance: With insulin resistance, the body can produce insulin, but it cannot use it effectively. Having insulin resistance increases the risk of developing diabetes. It can also cause acanthosis nigricans.
- Hirsutism: This is where a person experiences excess hair growth on their body. Common areas for this growth include the face, chest, and abdomen.
- Acne: Hyperandrogenism can cause the skin to produce too much sebum. Sebum can build up on the skin and cause acne.
- Androgenetic alopecia: This is sometimes called male pattern baldness, though it can affect people of any gender. It often presents as a receding hairline and thinning on the crown of the head.
- Menstrual irregularity:
A 2017 studynotes that a hallmark of PCOS is long, irregular menstrual cycles. Experts recognize a link between menstrual dysfunction, hyperandrogenism, and anovulation.
Ovarian cysts can also be quite painful. They may also rupture, and may cause sudden, sharp pain and nausea and vomiting.
It is possible to experience symptoms associated with PCOS without having the condition, such as after stopping treatment with a hormone-containing medication.
Experiencing symptoms of PCOS after stopping hormonal birth control does not always mean a person has PCOS. Many PCOS symptoms are broad and can result from multiple conditions and other factors.
Some symptoms may occur due to stopping birth control as the person’s body adjusts to no longer receiving the same hormones. These symptoms will likely ease over time in a person without PCOS.
If a person is concerned about symptoms not easing after they stop taking a hormonal contraceptive, they may wish to talk with a doctor.
Some PCOS symptoms that may occur after stopping birth control but which do not always indicate PCOS include:
A common symptom of PCOS is irregular periods, which is typically long lasting and does not ease with time.
Research indicates that
A person may experience hormonal acne as their body adjusts to the lack of hormones it received from birth control.
In PCOS, acne is typically the result of hyperandrogenism, and it is unlikely to ease after stopping birth control.
The first step to PCOS diagnosis is to talk with a doctor. They will arrange multiple tests to investigate the condition if they suspect it. These
- Family history: A doctor may ask about close family members who have the condition or similar symptoms. This is because research indicates that PCOS has a genetic component.
- Physical exam: A healthcare professional may carry out external checks to look for physical PCOS symptoms, such as acne and hirsutism. They may also perform an internal physical exam to check the vagina and cervix for any abnormalities.
- Blood tests: Blood testing can indicate possible PCOS in a few ways. For example, it may highlight hyperandrogenism and excess blood sugar (suggesting possible insulin resistance).
- Imaging: In this procedure, a healthcare professional uses ultrasound to examine the organs and structures within the pelvic area. A doctor may also recommend a transvaginal ultrasound, which involves having a wand inserted into the vagina to create an image of the pelvic structures from an internal perspective.
Doctors use certain criteria to diagnose PCOS. They will likely base their diagnosis on whether a person has polycystic ovaries, hyperandrogenism, and irregular periods.
Stopping hormonal birth control can cause symptoms commonly associated with PCOS to occur. However, stopping birth control cannot cause PCOS, and experiencing certain symptoms does not always mean that a person has PCOS.
In people without PCOS, symptoms from stopping hormonal contraception should ease within a few months. Conversely, people with PCOS may find that hormonal contraception reduced or masked their symptoms, leading to symptoms seeming to worsen after stopping the medication.
A person may wish to wait a few months after stopping hormonal birth control to talk with a doctor about any symptoms that are still present. If a person’s symptoms do not ease or worsen during this adjustment period, it may suggest they have PCOS or another similar condition.