Spironolactone for polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)

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Spironolactone for polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)


Generic NameBrand Name

How It Works

Spironolactone is a diuretic, which gets rid of excess salt and water in the body. It also reduces androgen levels in women with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).

Why It Is Used

Spironolactone reduces androgen levels, which reduces male-pattern hair growth (hirsutism), hair loss, and acne for women with PCOS.

Spironolactone used alone can cause irregular bleeding and could cause problems if used during pregnancy. For these reasons, it is usually taken along with birth control pills. It is used to control irregular menstrual bleeding and to reduce hirsutism.

How Well It Works

About 70% to 80% of women with PCOS see a reduction in excess hair growth after taking spironolactone. It may take up to 6 months of daily use to be fully effective.1

Side Effects

Side effects from spironolactone may include:

  • Irregular menstrual periods, with higher doses of the medicine.
  • Rash.
  • Scalp hair loss.
  • Nausea or fatigue, with higher doses of the medicine.
  • Cramping, diarrhea.
  • Drowsiness, lack of energy.
  • Headache, confusion.

Side effects go away when you stop using spironolactone.

See Drug Reference for a full list of side effects. (Drug Reference is not available in all systems.)

What To Think About

Unless your doctor advises it and is monitoring you carefully, do not take potassium supplements when using spironolactone. Doing so may cause excessive potassium levels.

Your doctor may not recommend spironolactone if you have kidney problems. This is because it affects how your kidneys get rid of potassium.

Use birth control when using spironolactone. Spironolactone is not safe for use during pregnancy. It has been reported to cause a change in the genitals of a male fetus, although this is rare.

Complete the new medication information form (PDF) (What is a PDF document?) to help you understand this medication.



  1. Huang I, et al. (2007). Endocrine disorders. In JS Berek, ed., Berek and Novak's Gynecology, 14th ed., pp. 1069–1135. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins.


By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer Sarah Marshall, MD - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Kirtly Jones, MD, MD - Obstetrics and Gynecology
Specialist Medical Reviewer Deborah A. Penava, BA, MD, FRCSC, MPH - Obstetrics and Gynecology
Last Revised April 6, 2010

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