Polycystic ovaries (PCOS)

What are polycystic ovaries (PCOS)?

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), also known as polycystic ovaries, is a condition that affects how a woman’s ovaries function. It is characterised by irregular periods, excess androgen hormone and polycystic ovaries (ovaries that are enlarged and have many fluid-filled sacs surrounding the eggs). Women can develop the syndrome during their teenage years or throughout their reproductive age. They are also more common in obese women.

A women is stood with her hands at her abdomen. Polycystic ovaries (PCOS) is a fairly common condition in women, affecting the functioning of their ovaries.

What symptoms do they present?

Although symptoms are sometimes not experienced, it is common for irregular, infrequent, or non-existent menstrual periods to occur.

Other symptoms of PCOS can include:

  • Infertility or difficulty getting pregnant
  • Pelvic pain
  • Excess body hair on the face, chest, back and abdomen
  • Thinning hair and hair loss
  • Acne
  • Greasy skin

What causes polycystic ovarian syndrome?

Whilst the exact cause of PCOS is still unknown, it is known to run in families and relates to abnormal hormone levels. Women with polycystic ovaries have an excess of the hormone insulin, which is responsible for controlling blood sugar levels. Women with PCOS become resistant to insulin, and in turn their body produces more insulin to handle this. An excess of insulin in women leads to an increase in testosterone production and other hormones.

What does the treatment consist of?

Polycystic ovarian syndrome has no cure . However, following a proper diet, exercising, maintaining a healthy weight and taking pharmacological treatment can help control symptoms. Birth control pills can help regulate the period and reduce the levels of male hormones. In some cases, a surgical procedure called laparoscopic ovarian drilling (LOD) may be offered, which uses laser or heat to destroy the tissue in the ovaries that is producing hormones such as testosterone. With treatment, many women with PCOS can go on to become pregnant.