Polycystic Ovary Syndrome

What is polycystic ovary syndrome?

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a condition in which multiple cysts form in the ovaries affecting their ability to function normally. The ovaries usually produce ova (eggs) and the hormones estrogen and progesterone. These hormones influence the menstrual cycle and the production and release of eggs from the ovaries. Although it is a relatively common condition, the exact cause is not known. This condition is usually diagnosed during adolescence or in young adulthood. Symptoms include irregular or absent periods, excess hair growth and difficulty falling pregnant. There is no specific cure for PCOS, but the symptoms and difficulty falling pregnant can be well managed. With good treatment, many women live well with this condition.


The ovaries are the part of the female reproductive system which are responsible for producing ova (eggs) and the hormones estrogen and progesterone, which are important for a normal menstrual cycle and pregnancy. Polycystic ovary syndrome causes multiple cysts to form in the ovaries, which affects their ability to function, and causes the symptoms of this condition. Although it is a relatively common condition, the exact cause is not known. This condition affects women in adolescence or in young adulthood. PCOS tends to run in families, so a person who has a family member with this condition may be more likely to also develop it. Other factors that increase the risk of developing PCOS are obesity, low levels of physical activity and resistance to insulin.


The symptoms of polycystic ovary syndrome are primarily caused by hormone imbalances. They include irregular or absent menstrual periods, excessive hair growth, acne and weight gain. People with PCOS may have difficulty falling pregnant.


The diagnosis can be made based on the symptoms, physical examination and an ultrasound scan of the ovaries which shows the presence of multiple cysts. Blood tests to check hormone levels may also be helpful to confirm the diagnosis and rule out other causes for the symptoms.


Treatment involves taking steps to manage symptoms and complications. Irregular menstrual cycles and excess body hair can be managed by taking the (oral contraceptive) pill. Unwanted hair can also be managed by other methods, including shaving, waxing, depilatory creams and laser removal. Fertility problems are managed using medications which stimulate the release of eggs from the ovaries, and this is often successful in people with PCOS.


Although it's not possible to prevent this condition, early diagnosis can help to prevent complications, such as infertility or diabetes.

Other names for polycystic ovary syndrome

  • PCOS