Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a condition that affects about one in 10 women of childbearing age and can impair fertility. Its primary feature is multiple cysts on the ovaries that lead to a cluster of symptoms including irregular menstrual cycles, acne, hirsutism (excess hair growth on the face and/or body), weight gain, and trouble sleeping. 

Women with PCOS may also experience metabolic syndrome, insulin resistance, high cholesterol, and hypertension. PCOS may also increase your risk of heart disease, diabetes, and endometrial cancer. 

There is no cure for PCOS, but many of the symptoms can be treated or managed with a combination of lifestyle changes and medications. Women with PCOS who wish to become pregnant are often good candidates for fertility treatments.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What Causes Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)?

    Researchers don’t know the exact cause of PCOS, but an endocrine system imbalance, genetics, autoimmune disease, insulin imbalance, and environmental factors like endocrine disruptors may contribute. Lifestyle factors that lead to insulin resistance, including being sedentary and eating an unhealthy diet, increase a woman’s risk of PCOS.

  • How is Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) treated?

    There is no cure for PCOS, but its symptoms can be managed with weight loss, home remedies, and medication. Birth control pills help to regulate menstrual cycles. Insulin sensitivity can be improved with the drug metformin, as well as exercise, diet, and weight loss. Over-the-counter remedies can be used to treat acne and excessive facial hair. A surgical procedure known as ovarian drilling is also sometimes recommended.

  • How is Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) diagnosed?

    PCOS often goes undiagnosed until a woman has difficulty conceiving. A gynecologist will diagnose PCOS based on your symptom history, a physical exam, and lab work to test hormone levels, such as testosterone, follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), luteinizing hormone (LH), prolactin, and anti-Mullerian hormone. The presence of multiple ovarian cysts are confirmed through pelvic exam and ultrasound.

  • How Can I Lose Weight with PCOS?

    Having polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) can make it difficult to lose weight due to hormonal imbalances and insulin resistance. Following the PCOS diet, which focuses on whole grains, high fiber fruits and vegetables, fatty fish, lean protein, nuts, and healthy fats, along with getting regular exercise can help women with PCOS to lose weight and improve their symptoms.

  • How Can I Get Pregnant with PCOS?

    Having polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) can make getting pregnant difficult. Some women find lifestyle changes, such as losing weight through diet and exercise, can help. Other women may need fertility treatments to get pregnant. This includes drugs like Clomid, Femara, and gonadotropins, and assisted reproductive technology like intrauterine insemination (IUI) and in vitro fertilization (IVF).

Key Terms
Things only women with PCOS will know
Do I Have PCOS? 9 Signs
woman having an Ultrasound scan.
Fluid in Anterior or Posterior Cul-de-Sac
doctor and patient
Questions to Ask Your Endocrinologist If You Have PCOS
Doctor talking to patient in doctors office
How Often You Should See Your Doctors If You Have PCOS
Woman asking nurse a question
How Anti-Mullerian Hormone Can Help Diagnose PCOS
Irregular periods and PCOS
Are Irregular Periods and PCOS Definitely Linked
Women of all ages
How Does PCOS Change Through a Woman's Life?
Dehidroepiandrosterona
DHEAS Hormone Function and PCOS
Kidneys and adrenal glands, illustration
Cushing's Syndrome: Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatments
Teenage girl holding her abdomen
How to Manage PCOS as a Teen
Woman running to toilet in night clothes
Antidiuretic Hormone and PCOS
Female doctor using digital tablet in consultation
Should You See a Specialist for PCOS?
I'll see you next week for another check up
Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment of Hyperprolactinemia
a woman holding birth control pills
Late-onset Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia
Oligoovualtion and PCOS
Oligoovulation in Women with Pcos
Blood test tubes
Symptoms of High Prolactin Hormone Levels
Doctor holding a uterus model
The Female Reproductive System
Female Reproductive System
Anatomy and Function of the Vagina
illustration of ovulation
Learn About Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH)
perinium illustration
The Importance of the Perineum in Childbirth
woman patient talking with doctor
Estrogen Dominance in Women With PCOS
Adult woman having a visit at female doctor's office
6 Things No One Tells You About PCOS
Young Man Getting Ultrasound Of A Thyroid
Endocrine System - Everything You Need to Know
Illustration of the steps of ovulation: a primordial follicle grows and matures, before being released by the ovary into the fallopian tube.
Understanding What the Ovaries Do
Female doctor checking patient's neck
Is There a Link Between PCOS and Hypothyroidism?
Woman getting her blood pressure taken
High Blood Pressure in Women With PCOS
Woman drinking red wine
Why Resveratrol May Benefit Women With PCOS
Pregnant Caucasian woman timing contractions in hospital
How to Prepare for Pregnancy If You Have PCOS
Is it safe to take hormone supplements during pregnancy?
Do I Need Hormone Supplements While Pregnant?
Egg storage for IVF
Should You Freeze Your Eggs If You Have PCOS?
exercise during fertility treatments
Exercising During Fertility Treatment for PCOS
Woman getting blood drawn
The Role of Inhibin B in Fertility Treatments
The female reproductive system.
Tracking Ovulation When You Have PCOS
Woman holding fertility test stick
Using Ovulation Test Kits When You Have PCOS
Doctor comforting upset patient
Finding an Egg Donor If You Have PCOS
Expectant mother in hospital labour ward
Understanding the Role of Estrace During An IVF Cycle
Gynecologist with digital tablet feeling belly of pregnant patient
How Intrauterine Insemination (IUI) Works
brightly colored socks of woman on bathroom scale
How Women With PCOS Can Help Increase Fertility
In vitro fertilization
Things to Know Before You Start Monitoring During IVF
Pregnant woman holding her stomach
Risk Factors Relating to PCOS and Miscarriages
Woman giving herself an insulin shot
How to Give a Subcutaneous Injection
Woman breastfeeding her baby
Difficulties of Breastfeeding With PCOS
a doctor consulting with a couple
Getting Pregnant With Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)
Excited couple looking at pregnancy test
How Long Will It Take to Get Pregnant If I Have PCOS?
Doctor talking to female patient
Pregnancy Complications Associated With PCOS
human chorionic gonadotropin injection
hCG Shots During Fertility Treatments
Egg storage for IVF
What to Expect During an Egg Retrieval
Syringe being filled
How to Give an Intramuscular Injection
IVF treatment
The Process of an Embryo or Egg Transfer
Pregnant woman sitting up in bed
Folic Acid Metabolization in Pregnant Women With PCOS
exercise fertility PCOS
Exercise to Boost Fertility When You Have PCOS
Woman using acne cleaning pad to wash face
Androgens & PCOS: Excess Levels & What It Means
doctor consulting with a teen girl
The Symptoms and Diagnosis of PCOS in Adolescent Girls
A patient listening to a doctor
Why You May Not Know You Have PCOS Until Adulthood
Close up of scientists hands selecting a blood sample for medical testing
The Meaning of PCOS Lab Results
Female physiotherapist using ultrasound machine on client in clinic examination room
Transvaginal Ultrasound in the Diagnose of PCOS
Female doctor and patient talking in exam room
Differential Diagnosis of PCOS
getting a PCOS diagnosis
Diagnosing Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)
Blood sample taken for analysis
How PCOS Is Diagnosed
Nurse taking blood from patient, close up
Understanding Your Lab Tests for PCOS
Page Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Polycystic ovary syndrome. Updated April 1, 2019.

  2. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Does PCOS affect pregnancy? Updated January 31, 2017.

  3. US Department of Health and Human Services. Office on Women’s Health. Polycystic ovary syndrome. Updated April 01, 2019.

  4. NIH: Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. Polycystic ovary syndrome.

  5. Spritzer PM, Barone CR, Oliveira FB. Hirsutism in polycystic ovary syndrome: pathophysiology and management. Curr Pharm Des. 2016;22(36):5603-5613. doi:10.2174/1381612822666160720151243

  6. Moghetti P. Insulin Resistance and Polycystic Ovary Syndrome. Curr Pharm Des. 2016;22(36):5526-5534. doi:10.2174/1381612822666160720155855

  7. Reed BG, Carr BR. The Normal Menstrual Cycle and the Control of Ovulation. Endotext. South Dartmouth (MA): MDText.com, Inc. 2018.

Additional Reading