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Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a common condition, which affects how a woman’s ovaries work and may prevent ovulation from happening as usual.

What is polycystic ovary syndrome?

Polycystic ovaries contain a number of follicles that are sacs within the ovary where your egg develops. In polycystic ovary syndrome, these sacs haven’t formed properly and can’t release an egg, and ovulation may not happen consistently.

There are three main criterion to diagnosing polycystic ovary syndrome, only two of which are required for the actual diagnosis:

  • Irregular periods – where your ovaries do not regularly release eggs
  • Excess androgen – high levels of male hormones in your body
  • Polycystic ovaries – your ovaries become enlarged and contain many fluid-filled sacs (follicles) that surround the eggs

What are the symptoms of polycystic ovary syndrome?

In addition to the main symptoms of polycystic ovary syndrome, you may also experience:

  • Irregular periods or no periods at all
  • Difficulty becoming pregnant due to irregular ovulation or failure to ovulate
  • Miscarriage
  • Weight gain
  • Oily skin or acne
  • Unwanted facial or body hair (hirsutism)
  • Thinning hair and hair loss

In many cases there are no symptoms at all.

Polycystic ovary syndrome also increases the risk of developing health conditions in later life, such as type 2 diabetes and high cholesterol levels.

What are the causes of polycystic ovary syndrome?

It isn’t known what specifically causes polycystic ovary syndrome, but it is often linked to:

  • Family history
  • Abnormal hormone levels
  • High levels of insulin – If you have PCOS, you may not respond to insulin, so your sugar levels are higher. To prevent sugar levels becoming higher, your body produces more insulin causing higher levels of hormones like testosterone
  • Being overweight or obese – increases the amount of insulin your body produces

How is polycystic ovary syndrome diagnosed?

If you have been experiencing any of the symptoms of polycystic ovarian syndrome, you should see your doctor.

Your doctor will ask about your symptoms. If you have two out of three of the main symptoms listed above, you may be diagnosed with PCOS.

In order to confirm whether you have polycystic ovary syndrome, you may also undergo:

  • A number of hormone tests – to find out whether the excess hormone production is caused by PCOS
  • An ultrasound scan – this creates an image of your ovaries that shows whether you have a high number of follicles (polycystic ovaries)
  • A blood test – this measures your hormone levels and screens for diabetes or high cholesterol

How is polycystic ovary syndrome treated?

Polycystic ovary syndrome cannot be cured, but the symptoms can be managed. Treatment is dependent on your symptoms.

If you’re overweight, losing weight and eating a healthy diet can improve symptoms. A multidisciplinary team can also offer complementary therapies and personalised nutritional advice.

Your doctor may also prescribe medicines to treat symptoms, such as unwanted hair growth, irregular periods and fertility problems.

If fertility medicines don’t work, your specialist might recommend a simple surgical procedure called laparoscopic ovarian drilling (LOD). This involves using heat or a laser to destroy the tissue in the ovaries that’s producing hormones, such as testosterone.

After treatment, most women with polycystic ovary syndrome are able to get pregnant.

If you’re unsure what treatment you should go for, or the above treatments don’t work for you, our team of expert specialists are here to help.

This content has been checked and approved by

Mr Srdjan Saso  ›

Mr Srdjan Saso is a consultant gynaecologist at King Edward VII’s Hospital.

Find your specialist in polycystic ovary syndrome at King Edward VII's Hospital

If you suspect you have polycystic ovary syndrome and you’re seeking an expert opinion, you can find the UK’s leading shoulder specialists here at King Edward VII’s Hospital. Our consultants are hand-picked for you, making it easy to access the best possible care.

Mr Davor Jurkovic  ›
Special interests include:
Ovarian cancer (+ 6) more
Mr Ertan Saridogan  ›
Special interests include:
Laparoscopic surgery (+ 6) more
Mr Ian Currie  ›
Special interests include:
Menopause (+ 6) more
Mr Kuhan Rajah  ›
Special interests include:
Fertility (+ 5) more
Professor Maria Kyrgiou  ›
Special interests include:
Gynaecological surgery (+ 6) more
Mr Srdjan Saso  ›
Special interests include:
Ovarian cancer (+ 24) more
Mr Tom Setchell  ›
Special interests include:
Minimal access surgery (+ 15) more

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