Condition: Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS)

Polycystic ovarian syndrome is a condition that affects the way the ovaries work. It’s a very common condition, affecting up to 1 in 10 people in the UK, but more than half of those with PCOS will never experience any symptoms.

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What is Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS)?

Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) is a common hormonal condition that affects ovarian function. It can cause a varied range of symptoms, or none at all, and can also affect your fertility, making it more difficult to fall pregnant.

As well as being one of the most common causes of infertility in women and people assigned female at birth (AFAB), PCOS can also increase your risk of other health conditions including diabetes, high blood pressure and endometrial cancer, so it’s important to seek diagnosis and treatment as soon as you can.

What causes PCOS?

The exact cause of polycystic ovarian syndrome isn’t clear, but the condition sometimes runs in families. Several other factors are also known to contribute to an increased risk of having PCOS, including:

  • High levels of androgens (male hormones)
  • Insulin resistance (high insulin levels)
  • Being overweight or obese
  • Low-grade inflammation (high levels of C-reactive protein and white blood cells)

What are the symptoms of PCOS?

The symptoms of PCOS vary from person to person, and some people will experience severe symptoms, some may have a few mild symptoms, and others will have no symptoms at all.

The most common signs and symptoms that can indicate PCOS are:

  • Irregular or absent periods
  • Excess hair growth (often on the face, chest, arms and abdomen)
  • Acne
  • Weight gain
  • Hair loss or thinning on the head 
  • Darkening of the skin
  • Skin tags
  • Ovarian cysts
  • Fertility issues

What are PCOS tests and how is PCOS diagnosed?

A diagnosis of PCOS can usually be made if you experience at least 2 of the following 3 symptoms:

  • Irregular periods or infrequent periods – this suggests that you’re not ovulating regularly.
  • You have high levels of androgens that cause related symptoms such as excess facial or body hair – this can be detected clinically and/or through blood testing.
  • An ultrasound scan has shown that you have cysts on your ovaries – this is where the egg-containing follicles along the outer edges of the ovaries have developed abnormally and fail to regularly release eggs.

What are the three tests for PCOS?

  • Physical exam: where you may be checked for increased body and facial hair, thinning scalp hair, acne, and other symptoms of increased androgen levels. The doctor or specialist will also ask about your medical history, including the regularity of your menstrual cycle.
  • Blood tests: Common checks in blood levels are carried out in the androgens, including testosterone, which tends to be higher in women with PCOS. Insulin levels may also be tested, which are usually elevated in women with the condition.
  • Pelvic Ultrasound: This may also be recomended to look for ovarian cysts.

What are the treatment options for PCOS?

PCOS cannot be cured or reversed, but there’s a lot that can be done to reduce and mitigate your symptoms to improve your overall health and fertility.

At OneWelbeck, our consultant endocrinologists will perform a detailed assessment of your symptoms and develop a personalised management plan to suit you and your needs. This could include contraceptive pills, medications to target certain symptoms, lifestyle changes or surgery.

For more information, Professor Maralyn Druce, takes a closer look at the condition.

Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) Specialists

We have brought together a group of leading Consultant Endocrinologists to form our Endocrinology team. With a huge depth of experience covering diabetes, adrenal disorders, metabolic syndrome and much more, these expert clinicians are the best in their field and are all focused on delivering the very best patient care.