What is PCOS?

Polycystic ovary syndrome is named because women with the condition usually have polycystic ovaries. The term describes ovaries that contain about twice the normal number of small cysts which are usually no bigger than 8 millimetres each. They are located just below the surface of the ovaries and are egg-containing follicles that have not developed properly due to a number of hormonal abnormalities.

Women with PCOS may also have one or more additional symptoms including:

  • irregular periods, or a complete lack of periods
  • irregular ovulation, or no ovulation at all
  • reduced fertility – difficulty becoming pregnant
  • unwanted facial or body hair (hirsutism)
  • oily skin, acne
  • thinning hair or hair loss from the scalp (alopecia)
  • weight problems – being overweight, rapid weight gain, difficulty losing weight
  • depression and mood changes

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is very common, affecting 5–10 % of women. A larger group of women (c. 20%) have polycystic ovaries (PCO) without the other symptoms listed above.


  • affects millions of women in the UK and worldwide
  • runs in families
  • is one of the leading causes of fertility problems in women
  • if not properly managed, can lead to additional health problems in later life
  • can affect a woman’s appearance and self-esteem

PCOS affects women in different ways

Some women may have few, mild symptoms while others may have a wider range of more severe symptoms. The symptoms usually start in adolescence, although some women do not develop them until their early to mid twenties.

Although PCOS is treatable, it cannot be cured.

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