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How do health care providers diagnose PCOS?

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Your health care provider may suspect PCOS if you have eight or fewer periods per year, excess body hair or acne, or irregular periods. After obtaining a clinical history suggestive of PCOS, your health care provider will rule out other conditions that may cause similar symptoms. Some of these conditions include:

  • Excess hormone production by the adrenal glands, called adrenal hyperplasia (pronounced uh-DREEN-l hahy-per-PLEY-zhuh)
  • Problems with the function of the thyroid gland
  • Excess production of the hormone prolactin by the pituitary gland, called hyperprolactinemia (pronounced hi-per-pro-lak-tuh-NEE-mee-uh).

After ruling out other conditions and before making a diagnosis of PCOS, your health care provider will do the following:1,2

  • Take a full family history. Your health care provider will ask you about your menstrual cycle and any history of infertility. He or she also will ask you whether you have a mother or sister with PCOS or with symptoms like yours, as PCOS tends to run in families.
  • Conduct a complete physical exam. Your health care provider will do a physical exam and look for extra hair growth, acne, and other signs of high levels of the hormone androgen. He or she also will take your blood pressure, measure your waist, and calculate your body mass index, a measure of your body fat based on your height and weight.
  • Take blood samples. Your health care provider will check the levels of androgens, cholesterol, and sugar in your blood.
  • Do a pelvic exam or ultrasound to check your ovaries. During the pelvic exam, your health care provider will insert two fingers into your vagina and press on your belly to feel for cysts on your ovaries. To help see cysts in your ovaries, he or she might recommend an ultrasound, a test that uses sound waves to take a picture of your pelvic area. Your health care provider also will check how thick the lining of your uterus is; if your periods are irregular, the lining of your uterus could be thicker than normal.

A woman who has at least two of the following three conditions may be diagnosed with PCOS:

  • Long-term absence of ovulation (the process that releases a mature egg from the ovary) that leads to menstrual irregularities
  • High levels of androgens that do not result from other causes or conditions or signs of high androgens, such as excess body or facial hair
  • More than 12 cysts of a specific size on one or both of the ovaries (as detected by ultrasound)

Some women diagnosed with PCOS have the first two symptoms but no cysts on their ovaries.


  1. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. (2011). Polycystic ovary syndrome. Retrieved May 10, 2012, from http://www.acog.org/~/media/For%20Patients/faq121.pdf?dmc=1&ts=20120510T1116545699 External Web Site Policy (PDF - 273 KB) [top]
  2. National Center for Biotechnology Information, National Library of Medicine, PubMed Health. (2011). Polycystic ovary syndrome. Retrieved December 22, 2011, from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0001408 [top]

Last Updated Date: 11/30/2012
Last Reviewed Date: 05/23/2013
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