Review Article

Metformin use in women with polycystic ovary syndrome

Neil P. Johnson


Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is an endocrinopathy characterised by increased resistance to insulin. Metformin is one of the longest established oral insulin sensitising agents. For decades its use was restricted to management of type 2 diabetes. However, in the past two decades, its properties as an insulin sensitising agent have been explored in relation to its applicability for women with PCOS. Metformin is an effective ovulation induction agent for non-obese women with PCOS and offers some advantages over other first line treatments for anovulatory infertility such as clomiphene. For clomiphene-resistant women, metformin alone or in combination with clomiphene is an effective next step. Women with PCOS undergoing in vitro fertilisation should be offered metformin to reduce their risk of ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome. Limited evidence suggests that metformin may be a suitable alternative to the oral contraceptive pill (OCP) for treating hyperandrogenic symptoms of PCOS including hirsutism and acne. More research is required to define whether metformin has a role in improving long term health outcomes for women with PCOS, including the prevention of diabetes, cardiovascular disease and endometrial cancer.

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