Learn About Polycystic Ovary Syndrome

What is the definition of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome?

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a condition in which a woman has increased levels of male hormones (androgens). Many problems occur as a result of this increase of hormones, including:

  • Menstrual irregularities
  • Infertility
  • Skin problems such as acne and increased hair growth
  • Increased number of small cysts in the ovaries
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What are the alternative names for Polycystic Ovary Syndrome?

Polycystic ovaries; Polycystic ovary disease; Stein-Leventhal syndrome; Polyfollicular ovarian disease; PCOS

What are the causes of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome?

PCOS is linked to changes in hormone levels that make it harder for the ovaries to release fully-grown (mature) eggs. The reasons for these changes are unclear. The hormones affected are:

  • Estrogen and progesterone, the female hormones that help a woman's ovaries release eggs
  • Androgen, a male hormone that is found in small amounts in women

Normally, one or more eggs are released during a woman's cycle. This is known as ovulation. In most cases, this release of eggs occurs about 2 weeks after the start of a menstrual period.

In PCOS, mature eggs are not released. Instead, they stay in the ovaries with a small amount of fluid (cyst) around them. There can be many of these. However, not all women with the condition will have ovaries with this appearance.

Women with PCOS have cycles where ovulation does not occur every month which may contribute to infertility The other symptoms of this disorder are due to the high levels of male hormones.

Most of the time, PCOS is diagnosed in women in their 20s or 30s. However, it may also affect teenage girls. The symptoms often begin when a girl's periods start. Women with this disorder often have a mother or sister who has similar symptoms.

What are the symptoms of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome?

Symptoms of PCOS include changes in the menstrual cycle, such as:

  • Not getting a period after you have had one or more normal ones during puberty (secondary amenorrhea)
  • Irregular periods that may come and go, and be very light to very heavy

Other symptoms of PCOS include:

  • Extra body hair that grows on the chest, belly, face, and around the nipples
  • Acne on the face, chest, or back
  • Skin changes, such as dark or thick skin markings and creases around the armpits, groin, neck, and breasts

The development of male characteristics is not typical of PCOS and may indicate another problem. The following changes may indicate another problem apart from PCOS:

  • Thinning hair on the head at the temples, called male pattern baldness
  • Enlargement of the clitoris
  • Deepening of the voice
  • Decrease in breast size
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What are the current treatments for Polycystic Ovary Syndrome?

Weight gain and obesity are common in women with PCOS. Losing even a small amount of weight can help treat:

  • Hormone changes
  • Conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, or high cholesterol

Your provider may prescribe birth control pills to make your periods more regular. These pills may also help reduce abnormal hair growth and acne if you take them for several months. Long acting methods of contraception hormones, such as the Mirena IUD, may help to stop irregular periods and the abnormal growth of the uterine lining.

A diabetes medicine called Glucophage (metformin) may also be prescribed to:

  • Make your periods regular
  • Prevent type 2 diabetes
  • Help you lose weight

Other medicines that may be prescribed to help make your periods regular and help you get pregnant are:

  • LH-releasing hormone (LHRH) analogs
  • Clomiphene citrate or letrozole, which may allow your ovaries to release eggs and improve your chance of pregnancy

These medicines work better if your body mass index (BMI) is 30 or less (below the obese range).

Your provider may also suggest other treatments for abnormal hair growth. Some are:

  • Spironolactone or flutamide pills
  • Eflornithine cream

Effective methods of hair removal include electrolysis and laser hair removal. However, many treatments may be needed. Treatments are expensive and the results are often not permanent.

A pelvic laparoscopy may be done to remove or alter an ovary to treat infertility. This improves the chances of releasing an egg. The effects are temporary.

Who are the top Polycystic Ovary Syndrome Local Doctors?
Highly rated in
Obstetrics and Gynecology

University of California San Francisco Health System

PCOS Clinic

499 Illinois St 
San Francisco, CA 94158

Heather Huddleston is an Obstetrics and Gynecologist in San Francisco, California. Dr. Huddleston has been practicing medicine for over 24 years and is rated as an Elite doctor by MediFind in the treatment of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome. She is also highly rated in 6 other conditions, according to our data. Her top areas of expertise are Ovarian Cysts, Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, Infertility, and Asherman Syndrome. She is licensed to treat patients in California.

Highly rated in
Obstetrics and Gynecology
Reproductive Medicine

Penn State Health

Penn State Health Obstetrics And Gynecology

35 Hope Dr 
Hershey, PA 17033

Richard Legro is an Obstetrics and Gynecologist and a Reproductive Medicine doctor in Hershey, Pennsylvania. Dr. Legro has been practicing medicine for over 35 years and is rated as an Elite doctor by MediFind in the treatment of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome. He is also highly rated in 6 other conditions, according to our data. His top areas of expertise are Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, Ovarian Cysts, Infertility, and Ovarian Overproduction of Androgens. He is licensed to treat patients in Pennsylvania. Dr. Legro is currently accepting new patients.

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Highly rated in

Monash Centre For Health Research And Implementation

Melbourne, VIC, AU 

Helena Teede is in Melbourne, Australia. Teede is rated as an Elite expert by MediFind in the treatment of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome. She is also highly rated in 25 other conditions, according to our data. Her top areas of expertise are Ovarian Cysts, Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, Infertility, and Obesity.

What is the outlook (prognosis) for Polycystic Ovary Syndrome?

With treatment, women with PCOS are very often able to get pregnant. During pregnancy, there is an increased risk of:

  • Miscarriage
  • High blood pressure
  • Gestational diabetes
What are the possible complications of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome?

Women with PCOS are more likely to develop:

  • Endometrial cancer
  • Infertility
  • Diabetes
  • Obesity-related complications
When should I contact a medical professional for Polycystic Ovary Syndrome?

Call your provider if you have symptoms of this disorder.

Endocrine glands
Pelvic laparoscopy
Female reproductive anatomy
Stein-Leventhal syndrome
Follicle development
What are the latest Polycystic Ovary Syndrome Clinical Trials?
Efficacy and Safety of Acupuncture on Oligomenorrhea Due to Polycystic Ovary Syndrome: an International Multicenter, Pilot Randomized Controlled Trial
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Vitamin D Supplementation Prior to in Vitro Fertilization in Women With Polycystic Ovary Syndrome: a Protocol of a Multicenter Randomised Double-blind Placebo-controlled Clinical Trial
What are the Latest Advances for Polycystic Ovary Syndrome?
Life Modifications and PCOS: Old Story But New Tales.
The Role of Glp-1 Receptor Agonists in Insulin Resistance with Concomitant Obesity Treatment in Polycystic Ovary Syndrome.
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Controversies in the Pathogenesis, Diagnosis and Treatment of PCOS: Focus on Insulin Resistance, Inflammation, and Hyperandrogenism.
Who are the sources who wrote this article ?

Published Date : January 27, 2020
Published By : LaQuita Martinez, MD, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Emory Johns Creek Hospital, Alpharetta, GA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

What are the references for this article ?

Bulun SE. Physiology and pathology of the female reproductive axis. In Melmed S, Auchus RJ, Goldfine AB, Loenig RJ, et al, eds. Williams Textbook of Endocrinology. 14th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 17.

Catherino WH. Reproductive endocrinology and infertility. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman-Cecil Medicine. 26th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 223.

Lobo RA. Polycystic ovary syndrome. In: Lobo RA, Gershenson DM, Lentz GM, Valea FA, eds. Comprehensive Gynecology. 7th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2017:chap 41.

Rosenfield RL, Barnes RB, Ehrmann DA. Hyperandrogenism, hirsutism, and polycystic ovary syndrome. In: Jameson JL, De Groot LJ, de Kretser DM, et al, eds. Endocrinology: Adult and Pediatric. 7th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 133.