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Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome

Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) is one of the most common causes of female infertility. Although the cause of PCOS is not known, it appears that it may be related to many different factors working together, including insulin resistance, increased levels of hormones called androgens and an irregular menstrual cycle.

  • Common signs and symptoms of polycystic ovarian syndrome include:
  • Irregular menstrual periods—Menstrual disorders can include absent periods, periods that occur infrequently or too frequently, heavy periods, or unpredictable periods.
  • Infertility—PCOS is one of the most common causes of female infertility.
  • Obesity—Up to 80 percent of women with PCOS are obese.
  • Excess hair growth on the face, chest, abdomen, or upper thighs—This condition, called hirsutism, affects more than 70 percent of women with PCOS.
  • Severe acne or acne that occurs after adolescence and does not respond to usual treatments.
  • Oily skin.
  • Patches of thickened, velvety, darkened skin called acanthosis nigricans.
  • Multiple small cysts on the ovaries.

Women with PCOS tend to have a condition called endometrial hyperplasia, in which the lining of the uterus (the endometrium) becomes too thick. This condition increases the risk of endometrial cancer.

A variety of treatments, including combined hormonal birth control pills, are available to address PCOS. Treatment is tailored to each woman according to symptoms, other health problems, and whether the patient wants to become pregnant.

For information about PCOS, we suggest you visit the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists’ (ACOG) website at www.acog.org.