Insulin – sensitising drugs (metformin, troglitazone, rosiglitazone, pioglitazone, D – chiro – inositol) for polycystic ovary syndrome

JM Lord

July 01, 2007


Date of Most Recent Substantive Amendment: 2002 12 31

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is characterised by anovulation, hyperandrogenaemia and insulin resistance. Hyperinsulinaemia is known to be associated with an increase in cardiovascular risk and the development of diabetes mellitus. If insulin sensitising agents such as metformin are effective in treating features of PCOS, then they could have wider health benefits than just treating the symptoms of the syndrome.

To assess the effectiveness of insulin sensitising drugs in improving clinical and biochemical features of PCOS.

We searched the Cochrane Menstrual Disorders & Subfertility Group trials register (December 2002), the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (Cochrane Library, Issue 4, 2002), MEDLINE (January 1966 to December 2002), and EMBASE (January 1985 to December 2002).

Randomised controlled trials which investigated the effect of insulin sensitising drugs compared with either placebo or no treatment, or compared with an ovulation induction agent.

Performed by two reviewers, one blinded to information that could have identified the authors, publisher or results of each study. Fifteen trials were included for analysis, 13 of them using metformin and involving 543 participants.

Meta – analysis showed that metformin is effective in achieving ovulation in women with PCOS with odds ratios of 3.88 (CI 2.25 to 6.69) for metformin versus placebo and 4.41 (CI 2.37 to 8.22) for metformin and clomifene versus clomifene alone. An analysis of pregnancy rates suggests a significant treatment effect for metformin and clomifene (OR 4.40, CI 1.96 to 9.85). Metformin has a significant effect in reducing fasting insulin levels (WMD – 5.37, CI – 8.11 to – 2.63), blood pressure and low – density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL). There was no evidence of effect on body mass index or waist:hip ratio. Metformin was associated with a significantly higher incidence of nausea, vomiting and other gastrointestinal disturbance, but no serious adverse effects were reported.

Metformin is an effective treatment for anovulation in women with PCOS. Its choice as a first line agent seems justified, and there is some evidence of benefit on parameters of the metabolic syndrome. Ovulation rates are higher when combined with clomifene (76% versus 46% when used alone), but there is no evidence to indicate whether there is an increased multiple pregnancy rate with this combination. There is no data regarding its safety in long – term use in young women. It should be used as an adjuvant to general lifestyle improvements, and not as a replacement for increased exercise and improved diet.


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