August 16, 2023
3 Minutes

Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS): Symptoms, Treatment and Fertility

Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS): Symptoms, Treatment and Fertility
Written by
Dr Zoe Miller
Medical Editor and Doctor at NHS
Amilis makes fertility digestible, accessible, and affordable to help you take charge of your reproductive health and live on your own timeline.

In an eggshell...

  • Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, or PCOS, is a hormonal condition that sometimes happens to people in their reproductive years.
  • It can mess with your periods, throw in some extra male hormones, and even sneak in these tiny cysts on your ovaries.
  • It might make getting pregnant a bit tricky, bringing along weight changes, and more hair than usual.

Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) is a hormone disorder found in reproductive-age women. It’s pretty common, affecting around 10% of women worldwide.1

PCOS involves a range of symptoms, with irregular periods, acne, weight gain, and excessive hair growth just a few. It can also make getting pregnant difficult.

What Are the Symptoms Of PCOS?

The symptoms of PCOS can vary from woman to woman, but they may include2 :

  • Irregular periods
  • Acne
  • Weight gain
  • Excess hair growth
  • Thinning hair
  • Darkening of the skin
  • Headaches
  • Mood changes

If you notice anything out of the ordinary, make sure to visit your GP.

Causes of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome

We don’t know the exact cause of PCOS, but it’s likely related to insulin resistance and hormone changes.

Insulin is a hormone linked to sugar regulation in the body. The body can become desensitised to it, causing PCOS and other issues like diabetes.

When insulin isn’t recognised properly, male hormones can be overproduced in the body. These hormones disrupt the normal menstrual cycle and lead to the symptoms of PCOS. Other hormonal changes are also involved.3

PCOS often results in ovaries that are bigger than normal. You might also have more follicles (fluid-filled sacs that produce eggs) in your ovaries.

PCOS Risk Factors

Yes, we might not know the exact cause. But we do know several risk factors that can increase your chances of getting PCOS, such as:

  • A family history of PCOS
  • Obesity
  • Insulin resistance
  • A non-active lifestyle
  • Stress

Diagnosis and Treatment

There’s not one test to diagnose PCOS.

Doctors will usually examine you and ask about your symptoms and medical history. Blood tests can help check whether your hormone levels are normal. An ultrasound scan may also be needed to look at the ovaries if diagnosis isn’t clear.

Whilst there’s no cure for PCOS, there are lots of treatment options that can help with the symptoms.

Lifestyle changes, such as exercise and a healthy diet, can limit weight gain and improve your body’s response to insulin.

Medications, like the contraceptive pill, are prescribed for irregular periods and to reduce male hormone levels.4 Diabetic medications might be needed to help your body respond better to insulin (don’t worry, this doesn’t mean you’re diabetic!).

Fertility treatments are worth considering for women with PCOS struggling to conceive– more on this below.

Polycystic Ovary Syndrome and Fertility

PCOS can affect fertility by disrupting the normal menstrual cycle and ovulation. Around 80% of women who can’t get pregnant because they’re not ovulating have PCOS.5

But women with PCOS can go on to conceive with the right help, and several fertility treatments are available.

Medications to stimulate ovulation, egg freezing, and in vitro fertilization (IVF) are some of the options.

If you’re experiencing similar symptoms to the ones we’ve mentioned, visit your GP for a professional assessment.

Written by
Dr Zoe Miller
Medical Editor and Doctor at NHS