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Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS): Condition Information

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What is PCOS?

PCOS is a set of symptoms that result from a hormonal imbalance affecting women and girls of childbearing age. Women with PCOS usually have at least two of the following three conditions:1

  • Absence of ovulation, leading to irregular menstrual periods or no periods at all
  • High levels of androgens (a type of hormone) or signs of high androgens, such as having excess body or facial hair
  • Cysts (fluid-filled sacs) on one or both ovaries—"polycystic" literally means "having many cysts"

Some women diagnosed with PCOS have the first two conditions listed above as well as other symptoms of PCOS but do not have cysts on their ovaries.

PCOS is the most common cause of anovulatory (pronounced an-OV-yuh-luh-tawr-ee) infertility, meaning that the infertility results from the absence of ovulation, the process that releases a mature egg from the ovary every month. Many women don't find out that they have PCOS until they have trouble getting pregnant.

PCOS can cause other problems as well, such as unwanted hair growth, dark patches of skin, acne, weight gain, and irregular bleeding.

Women with PCOS are also at higher risk for:2

  • Obstructive sleep apnea, a disorder that causes pauses in breathing during sleep
  • Insulin resistance
  • Metabolic syndrome, a group of risk factors for heart disease and type 2 diabetes
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Obesity
  • Heart disease and high blood pressure (cardiovascular disease)
  • Mood disorders
  • Endometrial hyperplasia and endometrial cancer

Click here for more information about disorders or conditions associated with PCOS.

  1. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. (2011). Polycystic ovary syndrome. Retrieved May 10, 2012, from External Web Site Policy (PDF- 273 KB) [top]
  2. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Women's Health. (2010). Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) fact sheet. Retrieved April 24, 2012, from [top]

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