10 Signs You May Have Polycystic Ovary Syndrome

Doctor William C Lloyd Healthgrades Medical Reviewer
Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Written By Megan Freedman on October 5, 2021
  • Portrait of woman using digital tablet at home
    A Common Women’s Hormonal Disorder
    Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is the most common hormonal imbalance for teens and women of childbearing age. Almost 1 in 10 women has PCOS. But more than half of women with PCOS don’t know they have it, according to the PCOS Foundation. If you have two or more of these signs, see your doctor to discuss the possibility of PCOS. The sooner you treat the symptoms of PCOS, the sooner you’ll feel better.
  • Stomachache
    1. Irregular Periods
    One of the hallmark symptoms of PCOS is having irregular periods. This could mean never—or rarely—having a period. You could have a period at varying intervals, such as after 20 days, then after 35 days, and then after 16 days. You may experience bleeding or spotting between periods. Or you may have especially heavy or light bleeding. Hormonal birth control, such as the pill or the vaginal ring, can help with irregular periods when you have PCOS.
  • Woman Holding Pregnancy Test While Man Watches
    2. Infertility
    One in 5 women who experience difficulty becoming pregnant has PCOS. This makes PCOS the most common cause of infertility, according to the U.S. Office of Women’s Health. PCOS tends to cause high levels of androgen hormones, such as testosterone. Excessive amounts of androgen can prevent your ovaries from releasing an egg (ovulation). If you haven’t conceived after trying to become pregnant for 12 months—or for six months if you’re older than 35—the culprit could be PCOS.
  • View of feet of a woman standing on weighing scale
    3. Weight Gain
    Another common symptom of PCOS is extra weight. Women with PCOS may experience weight gain, even though they haven’t been eating more or exercising less. Or they may try to lose weight, but have a hard time. Women with PCOS also tend to have extra weight around the waist. If you notice any of these weight problems, talk with your doctor about whether PCOS could be contributing to them.
  • Woman checking wrinkles on her face
    4. Extra Body and Facial Hair
    Hirsutism—extra growth of dark or coarse hair on the body or face—is a symptom of PCOS. Androgen hormones—which are responsible for male sex characteristics—are the cause. Females produce a small amount of androgens, but women with PCOS often have high levels. Hirsutism due to PCOS can appear on the upper lip, cheeks, chin, top of the arms, inner thighs, lower belly, breasts, and lower back. Less often, it can show up on the chest, upper back, and upper abdomen.
  • hair loss
    5. Thinning Scalp Hair
    A less common, but still notable and upsetting, effect of PCOS is alopecia—thinning scalp hair. It may look like you’re losing hair in the same pattern some men do—on the top of your scalp, toward your forehead, or at your temples. Or your hair may appear thinner all over your head. There are several other possible causes of thinning head hair in women, such as diet, other endocrine disorders (such as hypothyroidism), stress, and infection.
  • Acne
    6. Persistent Acne
    Women of all ages from the teen years onward experience pimples, clogged pores, and oily skin. But PCOS can cause you to have these symptoms all the time, no matter what treatments you try. Creams, toners, and antibiotic pills often don’t help acne when you have PCOS. Birth control pills can help treat acne from PCOS by balancing your hormones.
  • Woman talking to doctor
    7. Dark Skin Patches
    PCOS can also cause you to have patches or darker, velvety-looking skin—called acanthosis nigricans—on certain areas of your body. Acanthosis nigricans is harmless, but can be cosmetically unpleasant. It most often occurs in the groin, under the breasts, in the armpits, and at the back of the neck. Insulin resistance from PCOS is the usual cause. The good news is treating the insulin resistance and balancing your hormones can help clear this skin condition.
  • Dermatologist using magnifying glass to examine woman's skin
    8. Skin Tags
    Skin tags are a less common PCOS symptom, but they can occur. Skin tags are small, flexible bumps or flaps of skin. Skin tags due to PCOS typically appear on the same areas as dark skin patches (acanthosis nigricans)—in or near the back of the neck, under the breasts, in the armpits, and in the groin. If skin tags are bothersome, see a dermatologist to discuss removing them.
  • Pain in the abdomen
    9. Pelvic Pain
    Pelvic pain is a less common symptom of PCOS. But PCOS can produce ovarian cysts—which themselves can cause pain in the pelvic area. When ovarian cysts cause pelvic pain, it can feel like a dull ache or a sharp jolt in your lower belly. You may always feel the pain, or it may come and go. There are many other causes of pelvic pain, including ovulation, endometriosis, and uterine fibroids. See your doctor for proper evaluation of any type of pelvic pain.
  • Black woman hugging her knees
    10. Depression and Anxiety
    Women with PCOS have significantly higher rates of depression and anxiety than women without PCOS. Depression can produce feelings of sadness, hopelessness, fatigue and irritability. Other symptoms include physical pain, irregular sleep, difficulty concentrating, and digestive problems. Anxiety can make you feel constantly worried, as well as irritable, fatigued, and restless. If you have these symptoms, it’s important to see a doctor for treatment regardless of the cause. With help, you can get back to feeling like yourself.
10 Signs You May Have Polycystic Ovary Syndrome

About The Author

  1. Acanthosis Nigricans. American Academy of Dermatology. https://www.aad.org/dermatology-a-to-z/diseases-and-treatments/a---d/acanthosis-nigricans 
  2. Anxiety Symptoms. Anxiety and Depression Association of America. http://www.adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/generalized-anxiety-disorder-gad
  3. Barry JA, Kuczmierczyk AR, Hardiman PJ. Anxiety and depression in polycystic ovary syndrome: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Hum Reprod. 2011;26(9):2442-51.
  4. Depression Symptoms. Anxiety and Depression Association of America. http://www.adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/depression/symptoms
  5. Hirsutism and PCOS. American Society for Reproductive Medicine. https://www.asrm.org/BOOKLET_Hirsutism_and_Polycystic_Ovary_Syndrome_PCOS/
  6. Ovarian Cysts. Womenshealth.gov. http://www.womenshealth.gov/publications/our-publications/fact-sheet/ovarian-cysts.html
  7. Pelvic pain – causes. The Mayo Clinic. http://www.mayoclinic.org/symptoms/pelvic-pain/basics/causes/sym-20050898
  8. Polycystic Ovary Syndrome. National Women’s Health Resource Center. http://www.healthywomen.org/condition/polycystic-ovary-syndrome
  9. Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS). American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. http://www.acog.org/Patients/FAQs/Polycystic-Ovary-Syndrome-PCOS 
  10. Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS). Hormone Health Network. http://www.hormone.org/diseases-and-conditions/womens-health/polycystic-ovary-syndrome
  11. Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) for Clinicians. Center for Young Women’s Health. http://youngwomenshealth.org/clinicians/pcos-nurse/
  12. Thiedke, C. Alopecia in Women. Am Fam Physician. 2003;67(5):1007-1014.
  13. What is Infertility? The National Infertility Association. http://www.resolve.org/about-infertility/what-is-infertility/
  14. What is PCOS? PCOS Foundation. http://www.pcosfoundation.org/what-is-pcos
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Last Review Date: 2021 Oct 5
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