Endometrial function in women with polycystic ovary syndrome: a comprehensive review

Hum Reprod Update. 2021 Apr 21;27(3):584-618. doi: 10.1093/humupd/dmaa051.


Background: Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is the most common cause of anovulatory infertility. An endometrial component has been suggested to contribute to subfertility and poor reproductive outcomes in affected women.

Objective and rationale: The aim of this review was to determine whether there is sufficient evidence to support that endometrial function is altered in women with PCOS, whether clinical features of PCOS affect the endometrium, and whether there are evidence-based interventions to improve endometrial dysfunction in PCOS women.

Search methods: An extensive literature search was performed from 1970 up to July 2020 using PubMed and Web of Science without language restriction. The search included all titles and abstracts assessing a relationship between PCOS and endometrial function, the role played by clinical and biochemical/hormonal factors related to PCOS and endometrial function, and the potential interventions aimed to improve endometrial function in women with PCOS. All published papers were included if considered relevant. Studies having a specific topic/hypothesis regarding endometrial cancer/hyperplasia in women with PCOS were excluded from the analysis.

Outcomes: Experimental and clinical data suggest that the endometrium differs in women with PCOS when compared to healthy controls. Clinical characteristics related to the syndrome, alone and/or in combination, may contribute to dysregulation of endometrial expression of sex hormone receptors and co-receptors, increase endometrial insulin-resistance with impaired glucose transport and utilization, and result in chronic low-grade inflammation, immune dysfunction, altered uterine vascularity, abnormal endometrial gene expression and cellular abnormalities in women with PCOS. Among several interventions to improve endometrial function in women with PCOS, to date, only lifestyle modification, metformin and bariatric surgery have the highest scientific evidence for clinical benefit.

Wider implications: Endometrial dysfunction and abnormal trophoblast invasion and placentation in PCOS women can predispose to miscarriage and pregnancy complications. Thus, patients and their health care providers should advise about these risks. Although currently no intervention can be universally recommended to reverse endometrial dysfunction in PCOS women, lifestyle modifications and metformin may improve underlying endometrial dysfunction and pregnancy outcomes in obese and/or insulin resistant patients. Bariatric surgery has shown its efficacy in severely obese PCOS patients, but a careful evaluation of the benefit/risk ratio is warranted. Large scale randomized controlled clinical trials should address these possibilities.

Keywords: AMH; PCOS; endometrium; implantation; infertility; lifestyle modification programs; metformin; miscarriage; polycystic ovary syndrome; pregnancy complications.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Endometrium / metabolism
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infertility, Female* / etiology
  • Infertility, Female* / therapy
  • Insulin Resistance*
  • Metformin* / therapeutic use
  • Polycystic Ovary Syndrome* / complications
  • Polycystic Ovary Syndrome* / metabolism
  • Pregnancy


  • Metformin