PCOS is a set of symptoms related to a hormonal imbalance that can affect women and girls of reproductive age.
What is PCOS?
PCOS is a set of symptoms related to a hormonal imbalance that can affect women and girls of reproductive 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
- Abnormal growths on one or both ovaries—these growths were thought to be fluid-filled sacs called cysts, however more recent evidence suggests that the growths are ovarian follicles that have stopped developing2
Some women diagnosed with PCOS have the first two conditions listed above as well as other symptoms of PCOS but do not have growths 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:3
- 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
- Heart disease and high blood pressure (cardiovascular disease)
- Mood disorders
- Endometrial hyperplasia (pronounced en-doh-MEE-tree-uhl hahy-per-PLEY-zhuh), a condition in which the lining of the uterus becomes too thick, and endometrial cancer
Learn more about disorders and conditions associated with PCOS.