Introduction: Noncontraceptive use of steroid sex hormones in reproductive medicine

The therapeutic use of estrogens and progestins is common in reproductive medicine. At times use is indicated and effective, while at other times use can have unintended consequences.

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Volume 106, Issue 7, Page 1551


Kurt T. Barnhart, M.D., M.S.C.E.


The use of steroid sex hormones for noncontraceptive benefits has been endorsed by several medical societies. In women with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), hormonal contraceptives are first-line therapy for concurrent treatment of menstrual irregularity, acne, and hirsutism. The association of PCOS with obesity, diabetes, and dyslipidemia frequently brings up the debate regarding risks versus benefits of hormonal contraceptives in this population. In women with PCOS, the lack of large-scale studies evaluating the risks with varying doses of ethinyl estradiol, types of progestins, and presence of confounding factors such as obesity, smoking, and other cardiometabolic comorbidities is a significant limitation in these deliberations. Although it is important to assess the absolute risk for major morbidities including cardiovascular events, currently, there are a paucity of long-term data for these outcomes in PCOS. Most of the current studies do not suggest an increase in risk of prediabetes/diabetes, clinically significant dyslipidemia, inflammatory changes, or depressive/anxiety symptoms with oral contraceptive pill use. Screening of women with PCOS for cardiometabolic and psychiatric comorbidities is routinely recommended. This information should be used by health care providers to individualize the choice of hormonal contraceptive treatment, adequately counsel patients regarding risks and benefits, and formulate an appropriate follow-up plan.

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Fertility and Sterility

Editorial Office, American Society for Reproductive Medicine

Fertility and Sterility┬« is an international journal for obstetricians, gynecologists, reproductive endocrinologists, urologists, basic scientists and others who treat and investigate problems of infertility and human reproductive disorders.