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Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)

What is PCOS?

PCOS stands for polycystic ovary syndrome. The exact cause of PCOS is unknown. What is known is that PCOS has to do with hormone imbalances. With PCOS, your body may have high amounts of two hormones: androgen and insulin. These hormonal issues can cause changes in your body’s ability to release an egg (ovulate) and can lead to irregular periods, ovarian cysts, trouble getting pregnant, and other symptoms.

What are the symptoms of PCOS?

PCOS symptoms include:

  • Irregular periods

  • Polycystic ovaries, AKA ovarian cysts

  • Infertility (trouble getting pregnant) — PCOS is one of the top causes of infertility.

  • Excess hair on your face, chest, belly, or upper thighs (sometimes called hirsutism)

  • Severe acne or oily skin

  • Dark skin patches

How is PCOS diagnosed and treated?

There’s no special test for PCOS. If you’re worried you may have PCOS, a doctor or nurse (like the staff at your nearest Planned Parenthood health center) can help you figure out if that’s what’s going on.

Your doctor or nurse will look at your skin and measure your weight and blood pressure. They’ll ask questions about your period, any symptoms you may be having, and your personal and family health history. They may do a pelvic exam and blood tests to check your hormone levels, whether you may be pregnant, and more. In some cases, your doctor or nurse may recommend getting an ultrasound to check for ovarian cysts.  

PCOS treatment is different for different people. While there is no cure for PCOS, taking medicine and losing weight can help  your symptoms. If you don’t want to become pregnant, your doctor or nurse may recommend hormonal birth control, like the hormonal IUD, birth control implant, pill, patch, ring, or shot to treat your PCOS. The pill, patch, or ring may be particularly helpful if you’re struggling with acne or want more regular periods. If you’re trying to get pregnant, drugs that treat insulin resistance may help, as well as certain fertility drugs that can help you ovulate. Losing weight can also help with ovulation and fertility.

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