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Sep 19, 2023

Women's Health

8 Signs You Could Have Polycystic Ovary Syndrome

What is polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)?

Polycystic ovary syndrome, or “PCOS,” is a hormonal disorder that affects women of reproductive age. PCOS is primarily caused by an imbalance of hormones, specifically high levels of androgens (male hormones) and insulin. This hormonal imbalance disrupts the normal functioning of the ovaries, leading to symptoms such as irregular periods, acne, weight gain or difficulty losing weight, and ovarian cysts.

The cysts seen in PCOS are small follicles in the ovaries that have not developed properly and contain immature eggs. They are a result of disrupted hormone levels that can contribute to irregular menstrual cycles.

PCOS has also been linked to an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and other health problems.

Polycystic ovary

Ovarian cysts vs polycystic ovary syndrome

PCOS and ovarian cysts are related, but they are not the same thing. Ovarian cysts are more common than PCOS. Most women will develop at least one ovarian cyst during their lifetime. These cysts are often functional cysts, which are a normal part of the menstrual cycle and usually resolve on their own without causing significant issues.

On the other hand, PCOS is a hormonal disorder that affects a smaller percentage of women. It is estimated that around 5–10% of women of reproductive age are affected by PCOS. PCOS involves multiple factors, including hormonal imbalances, insulin resistance, and genetic factors. It is characterized by specific symptoms, such as irregular menstrual periods, excess hair growth, and infertility.

While ovarian cysts can be a feature of PCOS, not all ovarian cysts are related to PCOS. PCOS involves a broader set of hormonal and metabolic dysfunctions beyond the presence of cysts.

How common is polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)?

PCOS is a relatively common. It is estimated to affect up to 10% of women of childbearing age, making it one of the most common endocrine disorders in this population.

PCOS appears to be more common among women who are overweight or obese, and certain ethnic groups, including women of South Asian, Middle Eastern, and Hispanic descent. It also tends to run in families, suggesting a genetic component to the disorder.

What causes polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)?

The exact cause of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is not fully understood, but it’s thought to involve a combination of genetic and environmental factors.

  • Insulin: One contributing factor is believed to be an excess production of insulin, which can lead to an overproduction of androgens by your ovaries. This can disrupt the normal balance of hormones in your body and lead to symptoms such as irregular periods, acne, and excessive hair growth.
  • Genetics: PCOS tends to run in families. There may be specific gene variations that contribute to the development of this condition.
  • Lifestyle factors: obesity, lack of physical activity, and/or poor diet may contribute to the development or exacerbation of PCOS symptoms.

How is polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) diagnosed?

Diagnosing polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) can be challenging because its symptoms can be similar to other hormonal disorders, and not all women with PCOS have the same symptoms. There is also no single test to diagnose PCOS. Diagnosis typically involves a combination of medical history, physical exam, and laboratory tests.

The diagnosis of PCOS is based on the presence of at least 2 of the following criterias:

  • Irregular menstrual cycles
  • High levels of male hormones (androgens)
  • Cysts on the ovaries seen on ultrasound

What are signs and symptoms of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)?

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) can cause a variety of signs and symptoms that can vary in severity from woman to woman.

Some symptoms that you you should be aware of that could indicate polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) include the following:

  • Irregular menstrual cycles
    Women with PCOS may have fewer than 8 menstrual cycles in a year or may experience prolonged bleeding, or missed periods, irregular periods, or very light periods.
  • Excess hair growth
    Women with PCOS may have excess hair growth on their face, chest, stomach, and/or back, also commonly called hirsutism.
  • Acne
    PCOS can cause acne or oily skin, especially around the chin and jawline.
  • Weight gain
    Some women may find you gain weight easily and and difficult to lose it, particularly around the waistline.
  • Hair loss
    Women may experience hair thinning or hair loss from the scalp.
  • Cysts on the ovaries
    Women may have multiple small cysts on their ovaries, although not all women with PCOS have ovarian cysts.
  • Difficulty getting pregnant
    PCOS can cause irregular ovulation or no ovulation, making it more difficult to conceive.
  • Fatigue and mood changes
    Some women may experience fatigue or mood changes such as depression or anxiety.

It’s important to note that not all women with PCOS have the same symptoms or severity of symptoms, and some may go undiagnosed or misdiagnosed. If you suspect you may have PCOS, it is important to talk to your healthcare provider for an accurate diagnosis and appropriate management.

If you have PCOS, you can still become pregnant. Although PCOS can make it difficult to conceive and increase your risk for some pregnancy issues, many individuals with PCOS do naturally become pregnant.


PCOS is a chronic condition that requires a comprehensive management approach. Treatment typically focuses on addressing the hormonal imbalances and managing symptoms. This may involve lifestyle changes such as adopting a healthy diet and exercise routine, weight management, and medications.

Medications are a common component of PCOS treatment. They do not cure the condition; they rather focuses on addressing managing symptoms including regulating menstrual cycles, controlling excess hair growth, and improving insulin sensitivity.

Oral Contraceptives

Birth control pills that contain both estrogen and progestin are used to regulate the menstrual cycle and reduce androgen (male hormone) levels. They can also help improve acne and hirsutism (excessive hair growth).

Anti-Androgen Medications

Anti-androgens, such as spironolactone and flutamide, are used to block the effects of androgens in the body. They can help reduce hirsutism (excessive hair growth) and acne.

Insulin-Sensitizing Medications

Medications such as metformin are used to improve insulin sensitivity and regulate blood sugar levels in women who have insulin resistance. They can help with menstrual regularity and may also aid in weight management.

Ovulation-Inducing Medications

Ovulation-inducing medications like clomiphene citrate are used to stimulate ovulation and used for women who are trying to conceive. They can help regulate the menstrual cycle and increase the chances of successful pregnancy.

Talk To Your Doctor

If you're concerned about your menstrual cycles, having difficulties becoming pregnant, or showing signs of excess androgen, consult your doctor.

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