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Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome


What is polycystic ovarian syndrome?

Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) is a hormone disorder that may cause cysts to form on your ovaries. Cysts are bumps that are filled with fluid. The cysts can prevent your ovaries from working correctly.

What causes PCOS?

The exact cause of PCOS is not known. It is believed that increased insulin levels may cause the ovaries to produce higher than normal amounts of male hormones. Insulin is produced in the pancreas and helps your body use sugar. Your risk may be increased if you have a family member with PCOS or other ovarian disease.

What are the signs and symptoms of PCOS?

  • Irregular or absent monthly periods
  • Increased hair growth on the face, chest, around the nipples, or lower abdomen
  • Thinning of scalp hair
  • Weight gain and fatigue
  • High blood sugar levels or high blood pressure
  • Infertility (problem getting pregnant)
  • Acne, darkening of the skin, or skin tags
  • Pelvic or abdominal pain

How is PCOS diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will ask about your symptoms and when they began. He will ask if you have any family members with PCOS. He may ask about your menstrual history, pregnancies, and medicines. You may also have one or more of the following tests:

  • Blood tests: These can test your hormone and blood sugar levels.
  • Pelvic exam: This exam lets your healthcare provider check the size and shape of your uterus, cervix, and ovaries.
  • Vaginal ultrasound: An ultrasound uses sound waves to show pictures of your ovaries on a monitor so your healthcare provider can check for cysts. A small tube is placed into your vagina.

How is PCOS treated?

  • Medicines:
    • Birth control pills: These medicines have female hormones, and may decrease male hormone levels. Birth control pills may control your periods, prevent cysts, or cause them to shrink. They also help decrease your risk of endometrial cancer and correct abnormal bleeding.
    • Hypoglycemic medicines: These help to lower your blood sugar levels and decrease insulin resistance. They are also used to lower male hormone levels and help you ovulate.
    • Antiandrogen medicines: These may help decrease male hormone levels, excess hair growth, and thinning scalp hair.
    • Steroids: These may help lower the release of male hormones.
    • NSAIDs: These medicines decrease swelling and pain. You can buy NSAIDs without a doctor's order. Ask your healthcare provider which medicine is right for you, and how much to take. Take as directed. NSAIDs can cause stomach bleeding or kidney problems if not taken correctly.
  • Surgery: Your healthcare provider may do surgery to see your ovaries or to take a biopsy (tissue sample). He may remove cysts or part of your ovaries.

What are the risks of PCOS?

You may get an infection or bleed too much after surgery to remove the cysts on your ovaries. Even with treatment, PCOS may return or get worse. PCOS may increase your risk of diabetes, high blood pressure, or heart disease. PCOS may decrease your chances of getting pregnant. Problems with your ovulation may further lead to abnormal uterine bleeding or endometrial cancer.

How can I manage my symptoms?

  • Manage your blood sugar and blood pressure: Your healthcare provider may want you to check your blood sugar levels and blood pressure at home. Keep a record and bring this to your follow-up visits. Blood sugar is measured with a glucose monitor. The monitor tests a small drop of blood. Blood pressure is measured with a cuff that you put on your arm and tighten. Ask for more information on how to measure your blood sugar and blood pressure.
  • Maintain a healthy weight: Ask your healthcare provider how much you should weigh. Ask him to help you create a weight loss plan if you are overweight. Weight loss may help reduce the complications of PCOS.
  • Exercise: Ask your healthcare provider about the best exercise plan for you. Exercise can help decrease blood sugar and blood pressure. It may also help with weight loss.
  • Eat a variety of healthy foods: Healthy foods include fruits, vegetables, whole-grain breads, low-fat dairy products, beans, lean meats, and fish. A dietitian may help you plan meals that are lower in carbohydrates to help you manage your blood sugar levels. Too much carbohydrate at one time can raise your blood sugar to a high level.

Where can I find more information?

  • The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
    P.O. Box 70620
    Washington , DC 20024-9998
    Phone: 1- 202 - 638-5577
    Phone: 1- 800 - 673-8444
    Web Address:
  • The Hormone Foundation
    8401 Connecticut Ave.
    Chevy Chase , MD 20815-5817
    Web Address:

When should I contact my healthcare provider?

  • You have a fever.
  • You feel weak or tired.
  • You have pain during sex.
  • Your pain is worse or does not go away after you take your pain medicine.
  • You have trouble urinating or emptying your bladder completely.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

When should I seek immediate care or call 911?

  • You have a severe headache or feel dizzy.
  • You vomit multiple times and cannot keep food or liquids down.
  • You have blurred or double vision.
  • Your breath has a fruity sweet smell, or you feel short of breath.
  • You have severe lower abdominal or pelvic pain.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.