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Fraison E, Kostova E, Moran LJ, et al. Metformin versus the combined oral contraceptive pill for hirsutism, acne, and menstrual pattern in polycystic ovary syndrome. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2020 Aug 13;8:CD005552. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD005552.pub3. (Systematic review)
Abstract

BACKGROUND: Metformin has been proposed as possibly a safer and more effective long-term treatment than the oral contraceptive pill (OCP) in women with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). It is important to directly compare the efficacy and safety of metformin versus OCP in the long-term treatment of women with PCOS. This is an update of a Cochrane Review comparing insulin sensitising agents with the OCP and only includes studies on metformin.

OBJECTIVES: To assess the effectiveness and safety of metformin versus the OCP (alone or in combination) in improving clinical, hormonal, and metabolic features of PCOS.

SEARCH METHODS: In August 2019 we searched the Cochrane Gynaecology and Fertility Group Trials Register, Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL), MEDLINE, Embase and CINAHL, the trial registers, handsearched references of the identified articles, and contacted experts in the field to identify additional studies.

SELECTION CRITERIA: We included randomised controlled trials (RCTs) of the use of metformin versus the OCP (alone or in combination) for women with PCOS.

DATA COLLECTION AND ANALYSIS: We used standard methods recommended by Cochrane. The primary review outcomes were the clinical parameters of hirsutism and adverse events, both severe (requiring stopping of medication), and minor. In the presence of substantial heterogeneity (I2 statistic > 50), which could be explained by pre-specified subgroup analyses on the basis of BMI, we reported the subgroups separately.

MAIN RESULTS: This is a substantive update. We identified 38 additional studies. We included 44 RCTs (2253 women), which comprised 39 RCTs on adult women (2047 women) and five RCTs on adolescent women (206 women). Evidence quality ranged from very low to low. The main limitations were risk of bias, imprecision and inconsistency. Metformin versus the OCP In adult women, we are uncertain of the effect of metformin compared to the OCP on hirsutism in subgroup body mass index (BMI) < 25 kg/m2 (mean difference (MD) 0.38, 95% confidence interval (CI) -0.44 to 1.19, 3 RCTs, n = 134, I2 = 50%, very low-quality evidence) and subgroup BMI > 30 kg/m2 (MD -0.38, 95% CI -1.93 to 1.17; 2 RCTs, n = 85, I2 = 34%, low-quality evidence). Metformin may be less effective in improving hirsutism compared to the OCP in the subgroup BMI 25 kg/m2 to 30 kg/m2 (MD 1.92, 95% CI 1.21 to 2.64, 5 RCTs, n = 254, I2 = 0%, low-quality evidence). Metformin may increase severe gastro-intestinal adverse events rate compared to the OCP (Peto odds ratio (OR) 6.42, 95% CI 2.98 to 13.84, 11 RCTs, n = 602, I2 = 0%, low-quality evidence). Metformin may decrease the incidence of severe other adverse events compared to the OCP (Peto OR 0.20, 95% CI 0.09 to 0.44, 8 RCTs, n = 363, I2 = 0%, low-quality evidence). There were no trials reporting on minor adverse events. In adolescents, we are uncertain whether there is a difference between Metformin and the OCP, on hirsutism and adverse events. Metformin versus metformin combined with the OCP In adult women, metformin may be less effective in improving hirsutism compared to Metformin combined with the OCP (MD 1.36, 95% CI 0.62 to 2.11, 3 RCTs, n = 135, I2= 9%, low-quality evidence). We are uncertain if there was a difference between metformin and metformin combined with the OCP for severe gastro-intestinal adverse events (OR 0.74, 95% CI 0.21 to 2.53, 3 RCTs, n = 171, I2 = 0%, low-quality evidence), or for severe other adverse events (OR 0.56, 95% CI 0.11 to 2.82, 2 RCTs, n = 109, I2 = 44%, low-quality evidence). There were no trials reporting on minor adverse events. In adolescents, there were no trials for this comparison. The OCP versus metformin combined with the OCP In adult women, the OCP may be less effective in improving hirsutism compared to metformin combined with the OCP (MD 0.54, 95% CI 0.20 to 0.89, 6 RCTs, n = 389, I2= 1%, low-quality evidence). The OCP may decrease the incidence of severe gastro-intestinal adverse events compared to metformin combined with the OCP (OR 0.20, 95% CI 0.06 to 0.72, 5 RCTs, n = 228, I2 = 0%, low-quality evidence). We are uncertain if there is a difference between the OCP and metformin combined with the OCP for severe other adverse events (OR 1.61, 95% CI 0.49 to 5.37, 4 RCTs, n = 159, I2 = 12%, low-quality evidence). The OCP may decrease the incidence of minor (gastro-intestinal) adverse events compared to metformin combined with the OCP (OR 0.06, 95% CI 0.01 to 0.44, 2 RCTs, n = 98, I2 = 0%, low-quality evidence). In adolescents, we are uncertain whether there is a difference between the OCP, compared to metformin combined with the OCP, on hirsutism or adverse events.

AUTHORS' CONCLUSIONS: In adult women with PCOS, metformin may be less effective in improving hirsutism compared to the OCP in the subgroup BMI 25 kg/m2 to 30 kg/m2 but we are uncertain if there was a difference between metformin and the OCP in subgroups BMI < 25 kg/m2 and BMI > 30kg/m2. Compared to the OCP, metformin may increase the incidence of severe gastro-intestinal adverse events and decrease the incidence of severe other adverse events with no trials reporting on minor adverse events. Either metformin alone or the OCP alone may be less effective in improving hirsutism compared to metformin combined with the OCP. We are uncertain whether there is a difference between the OCP alone and metformin alone compared to metformin combined with the OCP for severe or minor adverse events except for the OCP versus metformin combined with the OCP where the OCP may decrease the incidence of severe and minor gastro-intestinal adverse events. In adolescent women with PCOS, we are uncertain whether there is a difference between any of the comparisons for hirsutism and adverse events due to either no evidence or very low-quality evidence. Further large well-designed RCTs that stratify for BMI are needed to evaluate metformin versus the OCP and combinations in women with PCOS, in particular adolescent women.

Ratings
Discipline Area Score
Family Medicine (FM)/General Practice (GP) 6 / 7
General Internal Medicine-Primary Care(US) 6 / 7
Gynecology 6 / 7
Dermatology 5 / 7
Comments from MORE raters

Dermatology rater

The authors use standard Cochrane review methodology and the update is more focused on metformin. There ae 44 RCTs (38 new, so this is a major update), but most are of very to low quality. Why are people around the world still doing such low quality studies? Most of the comparisons are of uncertain significance, so despite 44 RCTs, we are not much further forward. Even with low quality, there is no clear benefit for metformin and possible more sever GP adverse effects. There is nothing much on acne outcomes either. This is not a great endorsement for using metformin for PCOS. We need a decent RCT to resolve in clearly defined BMI groups.

Dermatology rater

This review shows that no recommendation can be made for metformin in treating POS with the data currently existing.

Family Medicine (FM)/General Practice (GP) rater

This review highlights that much of the initial hype about metformine does not sustain the weight of evidence. Oral contraceptives are still the best choice for women with polycystic ovary syndrome.

Gynecology rater

As a gynecologist, I find the results of this Cochrane review clearly shows that oral contraceptives are still the mainstay of therapy in PCOS for hirsutism, acne, and menstrual irregularities. Metformin appears potentially useful only as an addition to oral contraceptives; although, further evidence is needed.

Gynecology rater

This highlights research deficits but offers no new findings to change existing patient management.
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