Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) - Topic Overview
What is polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)?
Polycystic ovary syndrome (say "pah-lee-SIS-tik OH-vuh-ree SIN-drohm") is a
problem in which a woman’s
hormones are out of balance. It can cause problems
with your periods and make it difficult to get pregnant. PCOS may also cause
unwanted changes in the way you look. If it is not treated, over time it can
lead to serious health problems, such as
diabetes and heart disease.
ovary syndrome (or PCOS) is common, affecting as many as 1 out of 15 women. Often
the symptoms begin in the teen years. Treatment can help control the symptoms
and prevent long-term problems.
What are hormones, and what happens in PCOS?
Hormones are chemical messengers that trigger many different processes,
including growth and energy production. Often, the job of one hormone is to
signal the release of another hormone.
For reasons that are not
well understood, in PCOS the hormones get out of balance. One hormone change
triggers another, which changes another. For example:
What are the symptoms?
Symptoms tend to be mild at
first. You may have only a few symptoms or a lot of them. The most common
Weight gain and trouble
- Extra hair on the face and body. Often women get
thicker and darker facial hair and more hair on the chest, belly, and
- Thinning hair on the scalp.
- Irregular periods.
Often women with PCOS have fewer than nine periods a year. Some women have no
periods. Others have very heavy bleeding.
Fertility problems. Many
women who have PCOS have trouble getting pregnant (infertility).
Most women with PCOS grow many small
cysts on their ovaries. That is why it is called
polycystic ovary syndrome. The cysts are not harmful but lead to hormone
What causes PCOS?
The symptoms of PCOS are caused
by changes in hormone levels. There may be one or more causes for the hormone
PCOS seems to run in families, so your chance of
having it is higher if other women in your family have PCOS, irregular periods,
or diabetes. PCOS can be passed down from either your mother's or father's
How is PCOS diagnosed?
To diagnose PCOS, the