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What is Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS)?

Sad woman looks at negative pregnancy testPolycystic Ovarian Syndrome or PCOS is one of the leading causes of infertility in women.

It is a common hormonal condition that disrupts the menstrual cycle and is also a risk factor for other health problems including heart disease, diabetes and endometrial cancer. It affects about 12-18 per cent of women of child-bearing age.

Polycystic ovaries are ovaries that have many cysts on the outside. Usually these cysts are follicles that have not grown properly and were unable to release eggs during ovulation. All women with PCOS have polycystic ovaries but it is possible to have polycystic ovaries and NOT have PCOS. It is estimated that one in five women will have polycystic ovaries at some point in their life.

So how do you know if you have PCOS? What are the causes and symptoms? And how is PCOS treated?

Here is a quick guide to understanding Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome …

Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome causes and symptoms

The causes of PCOS are unclear. For some women it runs in the family, for others it occurs when they are overweight. Symptoms include:

  • Irregular menstrual cycle
  • No periods (amenorrhoea)
  • Difficulty getting pregnant
  • Excess weight particularly around the abdomen
  • Acne
  • Excess hair on the face and body
  • Hair loss on the scalp
SUPPORT: Chat about PCOS in our Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome forum section

How is Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome diagnosed and treated?

PCOS can be diagnosed by looking at the patient’s medical history, an examination, blood tests to measure hormone levels and ultrasound.

Once diagnosed, the treatment of Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome should be a multi-disciplinary approach offering a long-term management solution. A short-term approach that only fixes a few of the symptoms can lead to long-term clinical problems.

For all women with PCOS it is important to make long-term lifestyle changes to prevent weight gain or to lose weight if already overweight. Losing just 5 per cent of your body weight can help stimulate ovulation, control insulin resistance and reduce the risk of diabetes and heart disease. Changes should include changes to diet, regular physical exercise and quitting smoking.

Other treatments depend on whether or not you are trying to conceive.

  • Contraceptive pill. The oral contraceptive pill can be prescribed to regulate your menstrual cycle and reduce excess hair and acne.
  • Infertility medications. If you’re trying to get pregnant you may be prescribed a drug to promote ovulation. Usually clomiphene citrate (sold as Clomid) or metformin.
Please note: This information is general and is not intended as a replacement to actual medical advice. If you suspect you have polycystic ovarian syndrome then please contact your health care provider.

 Image credit: citalliance/123RF Stock Photo

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