Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a health problem that affects one in 10 women of childbearing age. Women with PCOS have a hormonal imbalance and metabolism problems that may affect their overall health and appearance. PCOS is also a common and treatable cause of infertility.
Polycystic (pah-lee-SIS-tik) ovary syndrome (PCOS), also known as polycystic ovarian syndrome, is a common health problem caused by an imbalance of reproductive hormones. The hormonal imbalance creates problems in the ovaries. The ovaries make the egg that is released each month as part of a healthy menstrual cycle. With PCOS, the egg may not develop as it should or it may not be released during ovulation as it should be.
PCOS can cause missed or irregular menstrual periods. Irregular periods can lead to:
Between 5% and 10% of women of childbearing age (between 15 and 44) have PCOS.1 Most often, women find out they have PCOS in their 20s and 30s, when they have problems getting pregnant and see their doctor. But PCOS can happen at any age after puberty.2
Women of all races and ethnicities are at risk for PCOS, but your risk for PCOS may be higher if you are obese or if you have a mother, sister, or aunt with PCOS.
Some of the symptoms of PCOS include:
The exact cause of PCOS is not known. Most experts think that several factors, including genetics, play a role:
Yes. Having PCOS does not mean you can't get pregnant. PCOS is one of the most common, but treatable, causes of infertility in women. In women with PCOS, the hormonal imbalance interferes with the growth and release of eggs from the ovaries (ovulation). If you don't ovulate, you can't get pregnant.
Your doctor can talk with you about ways to help you ovulate and to raise your chance of getting pregnant.
Yes, studies have found links between PCOS and other health problems, including:
Yes and no. PCOS affects many systems in the body. Many women with PCOS find that their menstrual cycles become more regular as they get closer to menopause. However, their PCOS hormonal imbalance does not change with age, so they may continue to have symptoms of PCOS.
Also, the risks of PCOS-related health problems, such as diabetes, stroke, and heart attack, increase with age. These risks may be higher in women with PCOS than those without.
There is no single test to diagnose PCOS. To help diagnose PCOS and rule out other causes of your symptoms, your doctor may talk to you about your medical history and do a physical exam and different tests:
Once other conditions are ruled out, you may be diagnosed with PCOS if you have at least two of the following symptoms:5
There is no cure for PCOS, but you can manage the symptoms of PCOS. You and your doctor will work on a treatment plan based on your symptoms, your plans for children, and your risk for long-term health problems such as diabetes and heart disease. Many women will need a combination of treatments, including:
You can take steps at home to help your PCOS symptoms, including:
The types of medicines that treat PCOS and its symptoms include:
You have several options to help your chances of getting pregnant if you have PCOS:
Read more about treating infertility in PCOS.
PCOS can cause problems during pregnancy for you and for your baby. Women with PCOS have higher rates of:6
Your baby also has a higher risk of being heavy (macrosomia) and of spending more time in a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU).
You can lower your risk of problems during pregnancy by:
Researchers continue to search for new ways to treat PCOS. Some current studies focus on:
To learn more about current PCOS treatment studies, visit ClinicalTrials.gov.
For more information on PCOS, call the OWH Helpline at 800-994-9662 or contact the following organizations:
The Office on Women's Health is grateful for the additional reviews by:
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Page last updated: June 09, 2017.
Content last reviewed: January 05, 2016.