What Is PCOS? Symptoms Causes Diagnosis Treatment and Prevention

PCOS is a hormonal condition that mostly impacts women of sexual ages. It is distinguished by signs such as unpredictable periods, elevated androgen (male hormone) counts, and tiny fluid-filled sacs (cysts) in the ovaries.

The precise etiology of PCOS remains unknown. It is still thought to be associated to insulin resistance and/or a mismatch in hormone balances like insulin, testosterone, luteinizing hormone (LH), and follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) (FSH).

PCOS can lead to various health problems, including infertility, weight gain, acne, excessive hair growth (hirsutism), raising the risk of type II diabetes, insulin resistance, and heart disease. Treatment options for PCOS include lifestyle changes such as diet and exercise, medications to regulate menstrual cycles and reduce androgen levels, and fertility treatments for women trying to conceive.

Symptoms of PCOS

Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) symptoms can vary from woman to woman, and not all women with PCOS will experience the same symptoms. However, some common symptoms of PCOS include −

  • Irregular periods − Women with PCOS may have infrequent, intermittent, or prolonged menstrual periods, or they may experience heavy bleeding.

  • High levels of androgens − Male hormones like testosterone, which can produce symptoms like acne, excessive hair growth (hirsutism), and male-pattern baldness, are frequently present at higher than normal amounts in PCOS-affected women.

  • Polycystic ovaries − Women who have PCOS may have larger ovaries with several tiny sacs packed with fluid (cysts).

  • Insulin resistance − Insulin resistance, which reduces the body's ability to use insulin to control blood sugar levels, is a common symptom of PCOS in women. This can increase the risk of developing type II diabetes.

  • Weight gain − Weight gain is more prevalent in women with PCOS, particularly around the waist.

Other possible symptoms of PCOS include mood changes, decreased libido, infertility, and sleep apnea. It is crucial to note that not all women with PCOS will experience such signs, and several women with PCOS might show no symptoms.

Causes of PCOS

The specific etiology of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) is unknown, however, it is thought to be a mix of hereditary and cultural causes.

Insulin resistance, a disorder whereby the brain does not utilize insulin properly to manage blood sugar balances, is connected to PCOS. Insulin sensitivity can increase blood insulin and glucose amounts, causing the ovaries to release more androgens (male hormones) than usual. This can lead to many symptoms associated with PCOS, such as irregular periods, acne, and excessive hair growth.

Other factors that may contribute to the development of PCOS include −

  • Hormonal imbalances − Women with PCOS may have an imbalance in the levels of hormones such as luteinizing hormone (LH) and follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), which regulate the menstrual cycle.

  • Genetics − PCOS appears to run in families, and some studies have identified genes associated with an increased risk of developing the condition.

  • Inflammation − Inflammation in the body may play a role in developing PCOS.

  • Environmental factors − Exposure to certain chemicals or toxins, such as bisphenol A (BPA) and phthalates, may increase the risk of developing PCOS.

How PCOS is Diagnosed

polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) can be analyzed based on symptoms, physical exams, and laboratory tests. There is no single test that can definitively diagnose PCOS, so doctors typically use a variety of approaches to make a diagnosis.

Here are some common methods used to diagnose PCOS −

  • Medical history − Your doctor will ask about your menstrual cycles, any symptoms you may be experiencing (such as acne or excessive hair growth), and your family history of PCOS or other related conditions.

  • Physical exam − To look for symptoms of PCOS, your doctor could do a physical examination, such as acne, excessive hair growth, and enlarged ovaries.

  • Blood tests − Your doctor may order tests to measure hormone levels, such as testosterone, luteinizing hormone (LH), follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), and insulin. High levels of androgens or insulin can be a sign of PCOS.

  • Ultrasound − To check for ovarian cysts, your doctor could perform an ultrasound on you. However, not all women with PCOS have cysts, and not all cysts are a sign of PCOS.

To be diagnosed with PCOS, at least two of the following three conditions must be met by you −

  • Irregular intervals of menstruation

  • High androgen content

  • Ultrasound images of polycystic ovaries

Other conditions that mimic PCOS, such as thyroid or adrenal gland disorders, must be checked out before a PCOS diagnosis is obtained.

If you suspect you may have PCOS, It's crucial to consult your healthcare practitioner to discuss your symptoms and determine the appropriate diagnostic tests.

Treatment of PCOS

The treatment of PCOS aims to manage its symptoms and reduce the risk of complications. Treatment options for PCOS may include −

  • Lifestyle changes − Menstrual periods can be regulated, and insulin sensitivity can be enhanced by maintaining a healthy weight with a balanced diet and frequent exercise.

  • Medications − Birth control tablets and other hormonal contraception may assist in managing menstrual periods and lower testosterone levels. Additional medications, like anti-androgens and insulin sensitizers, may be recommended to treat concerns.

  • Fertility treatments − Women with PCOS who want to get pregnant may need fertility procedures involving artificial insemination (IUI), ovulation induction, and even in vitro conception (IVF).

  • Surgery − In rare cases, surgery may be recommended to remove cysts from the ovaries or to treat other complications, such as uterine bleeding.

It is important to note that treatment plans for PCOS may vary depending on individual symptoms, overall health, and personal preferences. Women with PCOS should work closely with their healthcare providers to develop a treatment plan tailored to their needs.

Prevention of PCOS

Unfortunately, there is no known way to prevent Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) because its exact cause is not yet fully understood. However, adjusting your lifestyle can help regulate PCOS symptoms and minimize the likelihood of problems, especially for those at a higher risk of developing PCOS. These lifestyle changes include −

  • Maintaining a healthy weight − Being overweight or obese can worsen the symptoms of PCOS.

  • Eating a healthy diet − Consuming a lot of fresh produce, healthy grains, and low-meat products can help improve insulin sensitivity and regulate menstrual cycles.

  • Staying active − Frequent physical exercise can increase insulin tolerance and lower the chance of being overweight, both of these can exacerbate PCOS indicators.

  • Managing stress − High-stress levels can disrupt hormone levels, so managing stress through meditation, yoga, or deep breathing exercises may be helpful.

  • Avoiding smoking − Smoking can worsen the symptoms of PCOS and the likelihood of problems like heart disease increases, so it is important to avoid smoking or quit if you currently smoke.

While these lifestyle changes may not prevent the development of PCOS, they can help manage its symptoms and reduce the risk of complications. Women who suspect they may have PCOS should consult a healthcare professional for diagnosis and treatment.


PCOS is a complex hormonal condition that many women of reproductive age are affected by. A constellation of signs, including abnormal menstruation cycles, elevated testosterone levels, and tiny fluid-filled cysts inside the ovaries, distinguishes it. PCOS can cause various medical issues and raise the likelihood of acquiring additional disorders such as Type II diabetes and coronary disease.

Although the exact cause of PCOS is not fully understood, lifestyle changes such as diet, exercise, and medications can help manage its symptoms and reduce the risk of complications. Women who suspect they may have PCOS should consult a healthcare professional for diagnosis and treatment. Many people with PCOS can have happy and meaningful lives with adequate care.

Updated on: 04-Apr-2023


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