Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is when you have a large number of harmless cysts (fluid filled sacs which are under-developed and cannot release an egg) in your ovaries, which stops them ovulating. It is one of the commonest hormonal conditions, affecting up to 20% of women, although many people do not have any symptoms.

How is it caused?

Although no one is certain exactly what causes PCOS, it can run in families. It is also associated with having abnormal levels of certain hormones in the body, including insulin and testosterone. Being overweight can also increase your body’s insulin levels. And having abnormally high levels of insulin can in turn cause your body to produce more testosterone.

What are the symptoms?

You may be diagnosed with PCOS if you have at least two of the following symptoms:

  • Heavy and/or irregular periods
  • No periods at all
  • Acne
  • Hirsutism (excessive hair growth)
  • Hair loss (alopaecia)
  • Obesity, which can cause other symptoms to become worse
  • Difficulty becoming pregnant

Some women with polycystic ovaries have no symptoms and are only diagnosed with the condition when they experience difficulties becoming pregnant.  Others may have some, but not all, of the symptoms, which may be mild, moderate or severe. Your symptoms may also change over time and can be affected by a number of other factors such as diet and lifestyle.

Having PCOS can increase the risks of developing other conditions later in life. These include Type 2 diabetes, depression, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease, and stroke.

How is it diagnosed?

PCOS is usually diagnosed after discussing your symptoms with your consultant and having a pelvic ultrasound scan.  This should ideally be carried out shortly after your period along with a blood test to measure the levels of various hormones in your blood including the male hormone testosterone.

How is it treated?
If you are trying to become pregnant, PCOS can be treated using hormone tablets or injections to help you to release an egg each month. This is called ovulation induction. We will be able to advise you about your individual treatment, and will closely monitor your ovaries with regular ultrasound scans; this is known as follicle tracking.

If you are overweight, you can also manage your own condition and help to control the symptoms by making changes to your diet and lifestyle. We will be able to advise you about this, as well as offering counselling throughout your treatment programme.