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What are the symptoms of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)?

Dr. Ajay K. Sahajpal, MD
Transplant Surgeon

Polycystic ovarian syndrome results from a hormonal imbalance that leads to the development of numerous follicles in the ovaries with absence of ovulation and increase in hormones specifically androgens and precursors to testosterone (DHEAS). This results in obesity, acne, altered masculine-like facial hair, infertility and depression. The sequence of events becomes cyclical and the obesity worsens the infertility and formation of androgens.

Symptoms of polycystic ovary syndrome are abnormal periods: either a lack of periods or an increase in abnormal bleeding. It can also cause infertility. Acne and increased hair growth on the body, as well as obesity, are common.

Dr. Alan B. Copperman, MD
Fertility Specialist

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is extremely common in females. While the cause is not usually clear, there appears to be a genetic component that predisposes some women to PCOS. In fact, approximately 10 percent of women of reproductive age (12–45 years old) have some elements, including irregular menses and elevated levels of androgenic (masculinizing) hormones, resulting in acne and hirsutism, and obesity. Some patients also have insulin resistance, diabetes, and high cholesterol levels. Many experience infertility, which is nearly always treatable.

The most common cause of irregular menstrual cycles is polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). This is the most common endocrine disorder affecting reproductive-aged women and is often associated with irregular cycles, polycystic-appearing ovaries on ultrasound, and frequently signs or symptoms of excessive male hormone, testosterone. This can include acne or excessive hair growth, although these do not have to be present to make a diagnosis. Make sure your doctor excludes other conditions that could cause the irregular cycles, including thyroid disease, high levels of prolactin, or disorders of the adrenal glands.

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Here are the most common signs and symptoms of polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) in teens or adult women:

  • abnormal menstrual cycles
  • no periods
  • irregular periods
  • heavy or prolonged bleeding
  • painful periods
  • inability to get pregnant
  • acne
  • facial hair (more than is normal for the ethnic group)
  • waist measurement greater than 35 inches, or waist bigger than hips (apple shape)
  • acanthosis nigricans: darker patches of skin in neck folds, armpits, folds in waistline, or groin

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a very common problem, affecting about 5 percent of women of reproductive age. It consists of the triad of infrequent menstrual cycles, signs of excess androgens (male hormones) in the blood, which can manifest as hirsutism or excess facial hair growth, and a pelvic ultrasound showing 12 or more pea-sized ovarian cysts (follicles) in each ovary. Women with PCOS typically desire treatment for one or more of the following issues: irregular menstrual cycles, excess facial hair growth, anovulatory infertility or excess weight.

The first symptom you might notice if you have polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a disruption of your regular menstrual cycle. You may go several months without having a period or you may have periods that are very light or very heavy. The extra androgen that you have in your body can lead to irregular hair growth on your face and body. It can also cause bad acne. However, many of the symptoms can be different depending on your ethnicity. Some other conditions that might accompany polycystic ovary syndrome are infertility, obesity, diabetes and patches of darkened skin.

If you are experiencing any of the symptoms associated with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) you should speak with your doctor right away. If left untreated, the symptoms of PCOS can become more severe and embarrassing. Also, PCOS can lead to some serious conditions like high cholesterol, diabetes, heart disease and infertility. It can even raise the risk of endometrial cancer. As with any appointment, be sure to discuss with your doctor the causes, symptoms, treatments and complications associated with PCOS.

Dr. Scott A. Kamelle, MD
Gynecologic Oncologist

Women with polycystic ovarian syndrome unfortunately suffer from abnormal periods, pain with periods, infertility, and often chronic pelvic pain. The problem is that the ovaries are not communicating efficiently with the brain. The result is the formation of multiple ovarian cysts. Many of these patients suffer from obesity. Obesity contributes to this miscommunication between the ovaries and the brain. Fat cells produce estrogen. The more cells you have the more extra estrogen you have. This excess in estrogen is what interferes with normal ovarian function.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.