Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a common hormonal condition that affects around 12-20% of girls and women in their reproductive years. It may cause disruptions to the menstrual cycle, skin and hair changes, as well as cysts on the ovaries.
It is one of the leading causes of infertility, yet many women do not know they have it – up to 70 per cent of women with PCOS remain undiagnosed.
Women with PCOS produce high levels of male hormones from their ovaries.
These male hormones affect the menstrual cycle and many other parts of the body.
Women with PCOS often have enlarged ovaries. Their ovaries may have many cysts on them, which is where the name comes from.
Women with PCOS can have a wide range of symptoms. The most visible ones are acne, excessive hair on the upper lip, stomach and back, thinning hair on the head and even baldness.
Diagnosis is based on your doctor talking to you, examining you and possibly asking you to have blood tests and an ultrasound of the pelvis, ovaries and uterus.
The cause of PCOS is unknown but there appears to be connections with family history, insulin resistance and lifestyle or environment.
Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) can’t be cured, but you and your doctor can manage many of the symptoms.
Last reviewed: November 2016