Healthy New Jersey

Periods (menstruation)

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a set of symptoms related to a hormonal imbalance. It affects many women and girls of reproductive age. It's important to note that PCOS is not a disease.

Women with PCOS usually experience two of the following three conditions:

  • Absence of ovulation, which can lead to irregular periods or no periods at all
  • An excess body or facial hair, a sign of high levels of the hormone androgen
  • Abnormal growths on one or both ovaries, initially were thought to be cysts, but recent evidence shows they are underdeveloped ovarian follicles

It's important to note that cysts are not an indicator of PCOS.

PCOS is one of the most common causes of anovulatory infertility. Meaning infertility due to the absence of ovulation. According to the CDC, PCOS infertility affects 6% to 12% of US women of reproductive age.

Women with PCOS can develop chronic health conditions and complications.

Treatment for PCOS typically involves medication, which helps with symptoms and prevents certain health complications.


Common symptoms of PCOS include:

  • Missed periods, irregular periods, or light periods

  • Excessive hair growth on the chest, stomach, and back

  • Weight gain around the abdomen (belly)

  • Acne or oily skin

  • Male-pattern baldness or thinning hair

  • Difficulty getting pregnant (infertility)

  • Skin tags on the neck or armpits

  • Dark or thick patches of skin on the back of the neck, in the armpits, and under the breasts

  • Enlarged ovaries or cysts on the ovaries

Symptoms can vary in intensity and combination from person to person. Consult with your health care provider for proper diagnosis and guidance on managing PCOS.

What causes PCOS?

The precise cause of PCOS remains unclear. However, higher androgen levels seem to play an important part. PCOS could be heriditary and it is common for a mother, daughter or sisters to have the condition.


To diagnose PCOS, a health care provider will conduct a physical exam and ask about your medical history and symptoms. The exam may also include a pelvic exam to check the health of your reproductive organs both inside and outside your body.

Some PCOS symptoms resemble other conditions, and additional tests could include:


An ultrasound to view the ovaries and to see if cysts are present. Ultrasounds use sound waves and a computer to create images of blood vessels, tissues, and organs.

Blood tests

A blood test will determine high levels of androgens and other hormones. The health care provider may also check your blood glucose levels, cholesterol and triglyceride levels. 


Treatment depends on age, severity, health, and pregnancy plans.

If you plan to become pregnant, your treatment may include:

Diet and exercise

A balanced diet mixed with more physical activity could help you lose weight and reduce symptoms. Diet and exercise can also help your body use insulin more efficiently, lower blood glucose levels, and could help with ovulation.


There are medications that help the ovaries release eggs normally. Using these medications increases the risk of multiple births and ovarian hyperstimulation.

If you do not plan to become pregnant, treatmant may include:

Birth control pills

Also known as "the pill," birth control helps to control menstrual cycles, lower androgen levels, and reduce acne.

Diet and exercise

A healthy, balanced diet mixed with more physical activity can help you lose weight and reduce your symptoms. Diet and exercise can also help your body use insulin more efficiently, lower blood glucose levels, and may help you ovulate.

Diabetes medication

This can help lower insulin resistance in PCOS. It can also help reduce androgen levels, slow hair growth, and help you ovulate regularly.

Medications for certain symptoms

Health care providers may prescribe medication to reduce hair growth or fight acne.


Many women with PCOS are at risk of developing certain serious health problems:

  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Gestational diabetes
  • Infertility
  • Uterine cancer
  • High blood pressure
  • Heart disease
  • High LDL (bad) cholesterol
  • Sleep apnea
  • Stroke
  • Anxiety and depression

Key points:

  • PCOS is a common hormone problem for women. 
  • PCOS could cause missed or irregular periods, excessive hair growth, acne, infertility, and weight gain.
  • Women with PCOS may be at an increased risk for certain serious health problems.

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