The management of anovulatory infertility in women with polycystic ovary syndrome: An analysis of the evidence to support the development of global WHO guidance

Adam H. Balen, Lara C. Morley, Marie Misso, Stephen Franks, Richard S. Legro, Chandrika N. Wijeyaratne, Elisabet Stener-Victorin, Bart C.J.M. Fauser, Robert J. Norman, Helena Teede

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

415 Scopus citations


BACKGROUND: Here we describe the consensus guideline methodology, summarise the evidence-based recommendations we provided to the World Health Organisation (WHO) for their consideration in the development of global guidance and present a narrative review on the management of anovulatory infertility in women with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). OBJECTIVE AND RATIONALE: The aim of this paper was to present an evidence base for the management of anovulatory PCOS. SEARCH METHODS: The evidence to support providing recommendations involved a collaborative process for: (i) identification of priority questions and critical outcomes, (ii) retrieval of up-to-date evidence and exiting guidelines, (iii) assessment and synthesis of the evidence and (iv) the formulation of draft recommendations to be used for reaching consensus with a wide range of global stakeholders. For each draft recommendation, the methodologist evaluated the quality of the supporting evidence that was then graded as very low, low, moderate or high for consideration during consensus. OUTCOMES: Evidence was synthesized and we made recommendations across the definition of PCOS including hyperandrogenism, menstrual cycle regulation and ovarian assessment. Metabolic features and the impact of ethnicity were covered. Management includes lifestyle changes, bariatric surgery, pharmacotherapy (including clomiphene citrate (CC), aromatase inhibitors, metformin and gonadotropins), as well as laparoscopic surgery. In-vitro fertilization (IVF) was considered as were the risks of ovulation induction and of pregnancy in PCOS. Approximately 80% of women who suffer from anovulatory infertility have PCOS. Lifestyle intervention is recommended first in women who are obese largely on the basis of general health benefits. Bariatric surgery can be considered where the body mass index (BMI) is ≥ 35 kg/m2 and lifestyle therapy has failed. Carefully conducted and monitored pharmacological ovulation induction can achieve good cumulative pregnancy rates and multiple pregnancy rates can be minimized with adherence to recommended protocols. CC should be first-line pharmacotherapy for ovulation induction and letrozole can also be used as first-line therapy. Metformin alone has limited benefits in improving live birth rates. Gonadotropins and laparoscopic surgery can be used as second-line treatment. There is no clear evidence for efficacy of acupuncture or herbal mixtures in women with PCOS. For women with PCOS who fail lifestyle and ovulation induction therapy or have additional infertility factors, IVF can be used with the safer gonadotropin releasing hormone (GnRH) antagonist protocol. If a GnRH-agonist protocol is used, metformin as an adjunct may reduce the risk of ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome. Patients should be informed of the potential side effects of ovulation induction agents and of IVF on the foetus, and of the risks of multiple pregnancy. Increased risks for the mother during pregnancy and for the child, including the exacerbating impact of obesity on adverse outcomes, should also be discussed. WIDER IMPLICATIONS: This guidance generation and evidence-synthesis analysis has been conducted in a manner to be considered for global applicability for the safe administration of ovulation induction for anovulatory women with PCOS.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)687-708
Number of pages22
JournalHuman reproduction update
Issue number6
StatePublished - Nov 1 2016

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Reproductive Medicine
  • Obstetrics and Gynecology


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