7 Things to Know About 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
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    PCOS is a leading women’s hormonal disorder.
    Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a hormone imbalance affecting millions of women in their childbearing years. It’s linked to higher levels of the hormones androgen and insulin. PCOS causes a variety of symptoms from irregular periods to extra hair growth. If you have PCOS, you aren’t alone. Dealing with it can be frustrating, but educating yourself can give you a sense of control. Here are the key things you need to know.
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    1. PCOS is a common—but underdiagnosed—condition.
    PCOS is the most common hormonal disorder in teenage and premenopausal women. In fact, 5 million American women have PCOS, but over 2.5 million don’t know it. How can this be? PCOS shares symptoms with other common conditions, making it easy to mistake for something else. And its symptoms tend to vary from woman to woman. Knowing the symptoms may help you recognize PCOS in yourself or a loved one. A positive family history may move you to consider this diagnosis.
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    2. There are three major symptoms.
    The NIH (National Institutes of Health) and the Endocrine Society have guidelines for diagnosing PCOS. They recommend using three major symptoms: irregular periods, ovarian cysts, and high levels of androgen hormones. Your doctor can diagnose you with PCOS if you have two of them. PCOS can also cause other symptoms. They include infertility, extra hair growth on the face and body, weight gain, dark skin patches, skin tags, and depression.
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    3. PCOS has potentially serious risks.
    Having PCOS puts you at higher risk of developing certain serious conditions. These include diabetes, cardiovascular disease, pregnancy complications, sleep apnea, and endometrial cancer. The good news is medical treatment and lifestyle changes can help lower these risks. Finding the right combination of medicines and lifestyle changes for you is key. So it’s important to find a doctor experienced in treating PCOS to guide you.
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    4. PCOS is the most common cause of infertility.
    Infertility means not being able to conceive after a year of trying for a baby. In some cases, six months is the cutoff. And 20% of women who experience difficulty becoming pregnant have PCOS. This makes PCOS the most common cause of infertility. PCOS affects fertility by preventing ovulation. If you have PCOS, don’t lose heart. Many women with PCOS conceive and have healthy pregnancies with lifestyle changes, medications, and other fertility treatments.
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    5. Several types of doctors treat PCOS.
    Different types of doctors can treat PCOS, including obstetrician-gynecologists (Ob/Gyns), endocrinologists, and primary care doctors. OB/Gyns specialize in women’s health. Endocrinologists treat hormonal problems. And primary care doctors treat a range of conditions, but some specialize in endocrine disorders such as PCOS. No matter who you work with, for optimal care, make sure your doctor has plenty of experience treating women with PCOS. Start your search on Healthgrades.com for doctors in your area with the right experience.
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    6. PCOS has several medical treatments.
    Unfortunately, there is no cure for PCOS. But there are several ways to medically treat the symptoms of PCOS. These include insulin- and androgen-regulating medications, hormonal birth control, medically supervised weight loss, and weight loss surgery. A doctor with extensive knowledge of PCOS treatments can help you decide on treatment, based on your life stage and symptoms.
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    7. Lifestyle changes can also reduce symptoms.
    Lifestyle changes can help relieve many symptoms of PCOS. This includes eating a low-carb diet, exercising frequently, losing weight, and stopping smoking. These lifestyle changes work by regulating the abnormal levels of insulin and androgen hormones many women with PCOS have. If you need help changing long-held habits, talk with your doctor. Ask for recommendations or referrals to PCOS programs and providers who specialize in PCOS.
7 Things to Know About Polycystic Ovary Syndrome

About The Author

  1. Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) for Clinicians. Center for Young Women’s Health. http://youngwomenshealth.org/clinicians/pcos-nurse/
  2. Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS). Hormone Health Network. http://www.hormone.org/diseases-and-conditions/womens-health/polycystic-ovary-syndrome
  3. Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS). The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. http://www.acog.org/-/media/For-Patients/faq121.pdf?dmc=1&ts=20150521T1113535509
  4. Polycystic Ovary Syndrome. KidsHealth from Nemours. http://kidshealth.org/teen/sexual_health/girls/pcos.html
  5. Polycystic Ovary Syndrome. National Women’s Health Resource Center. http://www.healthywomen.org/condition/polycystic-ovary-syndrome
  6. What is Infertility? That National Infertility Association. http://www.resolve.org/about-infertility/what-is-infertility/
  7. What is PCOS? PCOS Foundation. http://www.pcosfoundation.org/what-is-pcos
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Last Review Date: 2021 Oct 5
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.