Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a condition that affects about one in 10 women of childbearing age and can impair fertility. Its primary feature is multiple cysts on the ovaries that lead to a cluster of symptoms including irregular menstrual cycles, acne, hirsutism (excess hair growth on the face and/or body), weight gain, and trouble sleeping. 

Women with PCOS may also experience metabolic syndrome, insulin resistance, high cholesterol, and hypertension. PCOS may also increase your risk of heart disease, diabetes, and endometrial cancer. 

There is no cure for PCOS, but many of the symptoms can be treated or managed with a combination of lifestyle changes and medications. Women with PCOS who wish to become pregnant are often good candidates for fertility treatments.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What causes polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)?

    Researchers don’t know the exact cause of PCOS, but an endocrine system imbalance, genetics, autoimmune disease, insulin imbalance, and environmental factors like endocrine disruptors may contribute. Lifestyle factors that lead to insulin resistance, including being sedentary and eating an unhealthy diet, increase a woman’s risk of PCOS.

  • How is polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) treated?

    There is no cure for PCOS, but its symptoms can be managed with weight loss, home remedies, and medication. Birth control pills help to regulate menstrual cycles. Insulin sensitivity can be improved with the drug metformin, as well as exercise, diet, and weight loss. Over-the-counter remedies can be used to treat acne and excessive facial hair. A surgical procedure known as ovarian drilling is also sometimes recommended.

  • How is polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) diagnosed?

    PCOS often goes undiagnosed until a woman has difficulty conceiving. A gynecologist will diagnose PCOS based on your symptom history, a physical exam, and lab work to test hormone levels, such as testosterone, follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), luteinizing hormone (LH), prolactin, and anti-Mullerian hormone. The presence of multiple ovarian cysts are confirmed through pelvic exam and ultrasound.

  • How can I lose weight with PCOS?

    Having polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) can make it difficult to lose weight due to hormonal imbalances and insulin resistance. Following the PCOS diet, which focuses on whole grains, high fiber fruits and vegetables, fatty fish, lean protein, nuts, and healthy fats, along with getting regular exercise can help women with PCOS to lose weight and improve their symptoms.

  • How can I get pregnant with PCOS?

    Having polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) can make getting pregnant difficult. Some women find lifestyle changes, such as losing weight through diet and exercise, can help. Other women may need fertility treatments to get pregnant. This includes drugs like Clomid, Femara, and gonadotropins, and assisted reproductive technology like intrauterine insemination (IUI) and in vitro fertilization (IVF).

Key Terms

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Page Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Does PCOS affect pregnancy? Updated January 31, 2017.

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  7. Reed BG, Carr BR. The Normal Menstrual Cycle and the Control of Ovulation. Endotext. South Dartmouth (MA): MDText.com, Inc. 2018.

Additional Reading