Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a hormone imbalance that can affect ovulation. It can cause problems with your periods and make it hard to get pregnant.

Doctors don’t know for sure what causes PCOS, but it seems to run in families. It also seems to be linked to obesity and a risk for diabetes.

You may have other symptoms. These include weight gain, acne, hair growth on the face or body, high blood pressure, and high blood sugar. Your ovaries may have cysts on them. These cysts are growths filled with fluid.

Keep in mind that even though you may not have regular periods, you can still get pregnant. Talk to your doctor about birth control if you don't want to get pregnant. Sometimes the hormone changes with PCOS can also make it hard to get pregnant. If this is a concern, talk to your doctor about treatment for this problem.

With PCOS, you may go for months or longer with no period. Your doctor may recommend medicines that can help regulate your cycle.


What are the symptoms of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)?

Symptoms of PCOS usually start gradually. They may include acne and oily skin, weight gain and trouble losing weight, extra hair on the face and body, thinning hair on the scalp, irregular periods, problems getting pregnant, and depression. PCOS may be more noticeable after a weight gain.


How is polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) diagnosed?

No single test can show that you have PCOS. To diagnose PCOS, the doctor will:

  • Ask questions about your past health, symptoms, and menstrual cycles. Your doctor may ask you about changes in your weight, skin, hair, and menstrual cycle. He or she may also ask you about problems with getting pregnant, medicines you take, and your eating and exercise habits.
  • Do a physical exam to look for signs of PCOS, such as extra body hair and high blood pressure. The doctor will also check your height and weight to see if you have a healthy body mass index (BMI). The exam also checks your thyroid gland, skin, breasts, and belly. You will have a blood pressure check and a pelvic exam to find out if you have enlarged or abnormal ovaries.

You may have blood tests to check for:

  • Human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG), to find out if you are pregnant.
  • Testosterone, an androgen. Androgens at high levels can block ovulation and cause acne, male-type hair growth on the face and body, and hair loss from the scalp.
  • Prolactin, which can play a part in a lack of menstrual cycles or infertility.
  • Cholesterol and triglycerides, which can be at unhealthy levels with PCOS.
  • Thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) to check for an overactive or underactive thyroid.
  • Adrenal gland hormones, such as DHEA-S or 17-hydroxyprogesterone. An adrenal problem can cause symptoms much like PCOS.
  • Glucose tolerance and insulin levels, which can show insulin resistance.

You may also have a pelvic ultrasound to look for cysts on your ovaries. Your doctor may be able to tell you that you have PCOS without an ultrasound, but this test will help rule out other problems.


How is polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) treated?

Regular exercise, healthy foods, and weight control are the key treatments for PCOS. Your doctor may prescribe birth control pills to reduce symptoms and help regulate your periods, or fertility medicines for problems getting pregnant. Treatment can reduce symptoms and help prevent long-term health problems.