What is Polycystic Ovary Syndrome?

Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (commonly referred to as PCOS) occurs when women produce higher than normal levels of male hormones, leading to problems with menstruation and fertility.

PCOS is one of the most common hormonal disorders that can affect women of childbearing age. Despite this, there is so much confusion about how it affects women, and what can be done to help those affected.

Here are 6 things about PCOS that all women should know:

1. PCOS affects 6-10% of women

While PCOS does affect 6-10% of women worldwide,[1] this varies from place to place. In some populations, PCOS can affect as many as 25% of women[i][2] of child bearing age.

2. PCOS often goes undiagnosed

While the statistics show that PCOS affects 6-10% of women, this number is actually a bit misleading. Because most women will only go to see their doctor if they notice problems with their periods, or are having difficulty getting pregnant.

However, research suggests that less than half of people with PCOS are diagnosed

3. PCOS doesn’t only affect your ovaries

Although it is called Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, PCOS doesn’t only affect your ovaries. And a woman with PCOS may not even have polycystic ovaries. Confusing right?

The diagnosis of PCOS can be made if other causes have been ruled out, and a woman has 2 out of 3 of the following:

  • Irregular periods
  • Excess of male hormones (e.g. testosterone)
  • Polycystic ovaries

However, in many women, signs of hormonal imbalance can be much more telling, e.g.:

  • Facial hair
  • Hair loss
  • Acne
  • Weight gain

4. PCOS can lead to type 2 diabetes

Women with PCOS are nearly 7 times more likely to develop type 2 diabetes[3]. Even if a woman diagnosed with PCOS is not diabetic, PCOS is associated with obesity, high blood insulin, and insulin resistancem which if untreated, can lead to diabetes.[4]

1 Norman RJ, Dewailly D, Legro RS, Hickey TE Lancet. 2007 Aug 25; 370(9588):685-97

2 Teede H, Deeks A, Moran L BMC Med. 2010 Jun 30; 8():41.

3 Traub M World Journal of Diabetes 2011 Mar 15; 2(3):33-40

[4] Mavropoulos JC, Yancy WS, Hepburn J, Westman EC. Nutrition & Metabolism. 2005;2:35. 10.1186/1743-7075-2-35.

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