Symptoms of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a hormonal disorder characterized by ovarian cysts, irregular periods, weight gain, excess hair growth, and more. People with PCOS experience varying symptoms, many of which mimic other diseases. Some people may show no symptoms at all. Because of this, many people with PCOS are misdiagnosed or not diagnosed until symptoms become more severe or obvious to their healthcare provider.

Knowing the most common symptoms of PCOS can help you determine when to see a healthcare provider and why it may be worth seeking a second opinion.


Click Play to Learn About the Symptoms of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome

This video has been medically reviewed by Peter Weiss, MD

Frequent Symptoms

Many of the most common signs and symptoms of PCOS are caused by hormone imbalances. While signs and symptoms of PCOS vary in type and severity, the following are the most common ones experienced by people who have the condition.

Irregular, Absent, or Heavy Menstrual Cycles

Typically, people with PCOS will have higher levels of male hormones called androgens. This can cause symptoms directly, but it can also throw off the ratio of female sex hormones, like the ones that control your menstrual cycle.

As a result, only a small percentage of people with PCOS will have a monthly period. The majority of people experience absent periods for several months or irregular ones that may come two or more times in one month, or occur every other month or so. Some people may have periods that last for weeks at a time or experience heavy menstrual flow accompanied by blood clots.

Weight Gain

Gradual or rapid weight gain (5 to 30 pounds in a few months) with no obvious cause can indicate PCOS, as well as not being able to lose weight despite diet and exercise.

Compared to women without PCOS, women with the condition tend to experience higher levels of insulin. Insulin is a growth hormone that promotes weight gain, especially in the central part of the body or abdominal region. It also makes losing weight difficult and increases your risk of metabolic conditions. In fact, over half of women with PCOS are obese.

Having high insulin levels can also contribute to increased cravings and low blood sugar.

Acne and Skin Problems

Acne may be one of the earliest signs of PCOS in adolescence. People with PCOS may experience acne on their face, back, or chest well into their adult years.

Acne production is usually caused by higher levels of androgen testosterone.

Skin tags or dark patches (called acanthosis nigricans) that look dirty but never come off when you scrub them are signs of high insulin associated with PCOS.

Excess Hair Growth

Hirsutism, a term for excess hair growth in women, is common with the condition. This is another effect of higher androgen levels, such as testosterone.

Typically, there is increased hair growth in the central part of the body (chest, face, back, lower abdomen, fingers, toes, and around the areola). Some women may experience little to no hair growth at all in these areas, while some women may have much more dense growth.

Hair Loss or Thinning

High levels of androgens can also cause thinning or male-pattern baldness in women. While it’s normal to lose some hair every day, it’s not normal to see a recessed hairline or bald patches.

Rare Symptoms

These less common symptoms may also be associated with PCOS:

Complications/Sub-Group Indications

PCOS has several complications that are frequently linked to the condition.

Fertility Issues

PCOS is the main cause of ovulatory infertility. As a result, people with PCOS tend to face more difficulty conceiving or becoming pregnant. An imbalance of sex hormones can stop ovulation by preventing the maturation and/or release of follicles from the ovaries so much so that the follicles are oftentimes mistaken for cysts.

People with PCOS also have a higher chance of miscarriage.

Obstructive Sleep Apnea

Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), commonly characterized by snoring, is highly prevalent in someone with PCOS. Sleep apnea may be caused by increased weight as well as increased levels of testosterone, which affects sleep receptors in the brain.

Sleep apnea can contribute to insulin resistance and high blood pressure, as well as fatigue. About 20% of women with PCOS develop sleep apnea.

Mood Disorders

Mood disorders such as anxiety, depression, and bipolar depression are higher in women with PCOS. It is unknown whether this is because of the hormone imbalance seen in PCOS or due to the difficulty of living with this often frustrating and complex condition.

birth control for PCOS
Illustration by Brianna Gilmartin, Verywell

Metabolic Syndrome

The hormonal effects of PCOS leave you more vulnerable to metabolic syndrome, which includes high blood pressure, high blood sugar, abnormal cholesterol levels, and excess body fat around your waist. This condition increases your risk of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.

About 35% of overweight women with PCOS develop metabolic syndrome (prediabetes); 10% develop type 2 diabetes.

When to See a Healthcare Provider

If you experience any or some of the symptoms listed above, you should talk to your practitioner about them. If you aren’t satisfied with the care you’ve received and think you may have PCOS or a related condition, seek another opinion. Many people with PCOS get diagnosed only after trusting their intuition that something isn’t right.

Most of the symptoms of PCOS are not severe enough on their own to prompt a visit to the emergency room or urgent care clinic. The "cysts" seen in PCOS are egg follicles and usually go away on their own in one to three months without symptoms. Rarely, they enlarge enough to cause pain, bleeding, or a twisted ovary. These symptoms may result in seeking emergency care.

A Word From Verywell

It’s important to get diagnosed with PCOS as soon as possible. While the above symptoms may or not mean you have it, it’s important to get it ruled in or out. Early detection and treatment of PCOS can make a big difference in protecting your short- and long-term health. With the right diagnosis and treatment, you can then take the proper steps to manage PCOS and live well.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What are the treatment options for PCOS?

    Oral contraceptives may help regulate your menstrual cycle and androgen blockers help inhibit excess testosterone secreted by the body. Your healthcare provider may also prescribe metformin due to the connection between PCOS and insulin resistance. Fertility treatments may vary based on the individual patient with PCOS and will likely require referral to a fertility specialist.

  • Are there any natural remedies for PCOS?

    Maintaining a healthy weight is one natural way to treat PCOS. Eating a healthy, balanced diet and getting regular exercise are natural ways to achieve that.

4 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. Sirmans SM, Pate KA. Epidemiology, diagnosis, and management of polycystic ovary syndrome. Clin Epidemiol. 2013;6:1-13. doi:10.2147/CLEP.S37559

  2. Rosenfield RL. The diagnosis of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome in adolescents. Pediatrics. 2015;136(6):1154-1165. doi:10.1542/peds.2015-1430

  3. Helvaci N, Karabulut E, Demir AU, Yildiz BO. Polycystic ovary syndrome and the risk of obstructive sleep apnea: a meta-analysis and review of the literature. Endocr Connect. 2017;6(7):437-445. doi:10.1530/EC-17-0129

  4. Badawy A, Elnashar A. Treatment options for polycystic ovary syndrome. Int J Womens Health. 2011;3:25-35. doi:10.2147/IJWH.S11304

Additional Reading

By Angela Grassi, MS, RDN, LDN
 Angela Grassi, MS, RDN, LDN, is the founder of the PCOS Nutrition Center.