Hyperinsulinism and PCOS

As of yet, we do not understand why one woman who demonstrates polycystic appearing ovaries on ultrasound has regular menstrual cycles and no signs of excess androgens while another develops PCOS. One of the major biochemical features of polycystic ovary syndrome is insulin resistance accompanied by compensatory hyperinsulinemia (elevated fasting blood insulin levels). There is increasing data that hyperinsulinemia produces the hyperandrogenism of polycystic ovary syndrome by increasing ovarian androgen production, particularly testosterone and androstenedione and by decreasing the serum sex hormone binding globulin concentration. The high levels of androgenic hormones interfere with the pituitary ovarian axis, leading to increased LH levels, anovulation, amenorrhea, and infertility. Hyperinsulinemia has also been associated high blood pressure and increased clot formation and appears to be a major risk factor for the development of heart disease, stroke and type II diabetes.

Weight loss and PCOS

In the treatment of obese women with PCOS, weight loss is the first requirement. After 10% weight loss, ovulation may return in many obese women with PCOS. Lifestyle intervention should always be regarded as the best initial treatment. Bear in mind that Metformin is associated with side effects and that 30% of women may stop Metformin treatment.

Newer methods of treatment

Traditional treatments have been difficult, expensive and have limited success when used alone. Infertility treatments include weight loss diets, ovulation medications (clomiphene, Letrozole, Gonadotrophins), ovarian drilling surgery and IVF. Other symptoms have been managed by anti-androgen medication (birth control pills, spironolactone, flutamide or finasteride).
Ovarian drilling can be performed at the time of laparoscopy. A laser fibre or electrosurgical needle is used to puncture the ovary 10-12 times. This treatment results in a dramatic lowering of male hormones within days. Studies have shown that up to 80% will benefit from such treatment. Many who failed to ovulate with clomiphene or metformin therapy will respond when re-challenged with these medications after ovarian drilling. Side effects are rare, but may result in adhesion formation or ovarian failure if the procedure is performed by an inexperienced surgeon.
But recently promising new treatment options have become available. It has been shown that lowering serum insulin concentrations with metformin (Glucophage 1500 mg a day) may increase the chances of success with ovulation induction agents.
There is increasing evidence that this endocrine abnormality can be reversed by treatment with widely available standard medications which are leading medicines used in this country for the treatment of adult onset diabetes, eg. metformin. These medications have been shown to reverse the endocrine abnormalities seen with polycystic ovary syndrome within two or three months. They can result in decreased hair loss, diminished facial and body hair growth, normalization of elevated blood pressure, regulation or menses, weight loss and normal fertility.

Are these medications safe?

Side effects are rare. Although metformin lower elevated blood sugar levels in diabetics, when given to non-­diabetic patients, they only lower insulin levels. Blood sugar levels will not change. In fact, episodes of "hypoglycemic attacks" appear to be reduced.