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Women's health centre

Anti-androgen drugs

BMJ Group Medical Reference


This information is for people who have polycystic ovary syndrome. It tells you about anti-androgen drugs, a treatment used for polycystic ovary syndrome. It is based on the best and most up-to-date research.

Do they work?

Yes, probably. If you have polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), taking an anti-androgen drug may mean you get less unwanted hair on your face or body. But some of these drugs can have serious side effects. Also, you can't take them if you're pregnant or if you're trying to get pregnant.

What are they?

Anti-androgens are drugs that reduce the effects of hormones called androgens in your body. You may be given one of these drugs to slow the growth of unwanted hair.

Some anti-androgen drugs are:

These drugs come as tablets. You'll need a prescription from your doctor.

All of these drugs are usually used for other conditions. But they can be prescribed for women with PCOS by a specialist doctor. Flutamide isn't usually used for PCOS in the UK.

Your doctor may suggest one of these drugs if you are bothered by unwanted hair, and taking the contraceptive pill hasn't helped. Some women take these drugs as well as the pill. [49]

You can't take these drugs if you're pregnant. They could harm your baby. [50] So, you'll need to make sure you use contraception while you're taking them.

How can they help?

You're likely to grow less unwanted hair if you're taking one of these drugs.

  • Women who took spironolactone for six months had much less unwanted hair than women who took a dummy treatment (a placebo). [51] About 6 in 10 women said it helped.

  • Finasteride also helped women have less unwanted hair. It worked better than a placebo, and just as well as a type of contraceptive pill called co-cyprindiol. [52] [53]

  • Flutamide also helped women have much less unwanted hair. [54] [47] [40] [55]

Each of the three drugs seemed to work about as well as the others. [56] [57]

You'll need to take these drugs for a long time (six months to 18 months) to see the full effect. That's because they make your hair grow more slowly, not fall out. So you may want to remove unwanted hair by shaving or other methods while they start to work.

When you stop taking these drugs, the hair will probably start to grow just as quickly as it used to. [49]

Last Updated: August 13, 2013
This information does not replace medical advice.  If you are concerned you might have a medical problem please ask your Boots pharmacy team in your local Boots store, or see your doctor.

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