Banner Health
Making healthcare easier

Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a very common health condition that can affect people with ovaries in different ways. It might make your periods irregular, change how you look, affect your weight and make it harder to have a baby. Yet, PCOS is often misunderstood and misdiagnosed.

Whether you’ve recently found out you have PCOS, think you might have it, or want to help someone who does, we’re here to help. Keep reading to learn more about this syndrome, what it does and how to handle it.

What is PCOS?

PCOS is an endocrine and metabolic disorder that affects how your ovaries (the organs that create and release eggs) work.

The syndrome gets its name from small follicle cysts (fluid-filled sacs) on the ovaries. However, the term “polycystic” can be misleading because not everyone with PCOS has these cysts.

PCOS often happens during the reproductive years, from teens to early 40s. It can lead to a hormone imbalance that can cause irregular menstrual periods. It’s also the most common cause of infertility in women and people who are AFAB (assigned female at birth).

What causes PCOS?

The exact cause of PCOS is unknown but it often runs in families. If someone in your family has PCOS, diabetes or irregular menstrual cycles, you might get it too.

Other things that may play a part in causing PCOS include:

  • High levels of androgen (hyperandrogenism): Usually, the ovaries release an egg about once a month. In people with PCOS, high levels of androgens (male-type hormones) get in the way of this happening. This can cause irregular periods.
  • High levels of insulin: Insulin is a hormone in the body that turns glucose (blood sugar) into energy. People with PCOS may have insulin resistance or high blood sugar levels, which means their body does not use insulin properly. This can lead to problems such as weight gain and conditions like type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

What are the symptoms of PCOS?

People with PCOS can have different signs and symptoms - from mild to severe - that change at different stages of life. Some people might not even know they have PCOS until they have trouble getting pregnant. Using certain types of birth control pills can also stop people from noticing they have PCOS.

The most common PCOS symptoms include:

  • Having no period, skipping periods, or having long or missed periods
  • Excess hair growth on the face and body (hirsutism)
  • Thinning hair or hair loss (alopecia)
  • Skin problems like acne, thick dark patches on the skin and skin tags
  • Weight gain or difficulty losing weight
  • Difficulty getting pregnant 
  • Mental health symptoms, including anxiety and depression
  • Sleep problems like obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) and chronic daytime sleepiness

How is PCOS diagnosed?

There is no single test to diagnose PCOS and the symptoms can be different from person to person. To be diagnosed with PCOS, you must have at least two of the following symptoms:

  • Irregular or no periods
  • High level of androgens
  • Polycystic ovaries (when you develop multiple ovarian follicles, but they don’t mature)

If you have symptoms, see your health care provider or a specialist. Your provider will talk to you about your symptoms and medical history and perform a physical exam and/or pelvic exam.

They may also order additional testing depending on your symptoms. These tests may include:

  • Blood tests: Your provider may order blood tests to look at your hormone levels.
  • Imaging tests: An abdominal or pelvic ultrasound can allow your provider to look at your ovaries, check the thickness of your uterine lining and look for other causes of symptoms.

Does PCOS put me at risk for other health conditions?

Many people with PCOS live healthy lives. However, the condition can put you at greater risk for certain health issues, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, sleep apnea, depression and cancer.

That’s why it’s important to find out about PCOS early and get treatment to manage the symptoms. While it is a lifelong condition, there are several treatment options to make it easier to handle.

Learn about the treatment and management of PCOS symptoms

Schedule an appointment

If you think you might have PCOS or have health concerns, don’t wait. Schedule an appointment with one of our Banner Health specialists. We’re here to provide expert guidance and treatment options tailored to your needs.