Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital

Polycystic Ovary Syndrome

PCOS is a condition affecting the ovaries. Symptoms can be managed with proper treatment.

What is PCOS?

Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) is a condition that affects women. PCOS causes irregular periods and an increase in male hormones that can cause acne and unwanted hair.

The cause of PCOS is not completely understood, but we know that in PCOS, the ovaries do not work properly and they produce too much of the male hormone. About 50 percent of women with PCOS are obese.

It is important to know that not everyone who has PCOS has cysts on their ovaries and not everyone who has cysts on their ovaries has PCOS.

PCOS Symptoms

  • Scalp hair loss and thinning hair
  • Excessive acne and oily skin
  • Excessive hair on face,  back and stomach
  • Dark skin on neck  and armpits
  • High blood sugar
  • Weight gain
  •  Irregular periods

PCOS Diagnosis

To diagnose PCOS, a healthcare provider will:

  • Ask about your symptoms
  • Perform a physical exam
  • Obtain blood work
  • In some cases, an ultrasound of your pelvis may  be needed, which is a safe, painless test that uses sound waves to take a picture.

PCOS Treatment

There is no cure for PCOS but you can live a completely normal life. Below are options that may help manage the PCOS symptoms:
  • Healthy diet and exercise
  • Metformin: Can make periods regular and lower blood sugar
  • Birth control pills: Some forms will regulate hormones
  • Other medicines may be used to help reduce acne and unwanted hair

Frequently Asked Questions

How common is PCOS?

About 6–12% of women of reproductive age in the United States have PCOS.

Does everyone with ovarian cysts have PCOS?

No. Some women have simple ovarian cysts and do not have the other symptoms and hormone changes that women have with PCOS. In addition, not everyone with PCOS has cysts on their ovaries.

Why is it important to treat PCOS?

PCOS can increase your risk for type 2 diabetes, heart disease and certain types of cancers. Treatment helps reduce these risks. Treatment with birth control can reduce the risk of endometrial cancer.

If I have PCOS, can I still get pregnant?

Women with PCOS still need to use birth control if they are sexually active and do not want to be pregnant. Women who want to get pregnant may need to try for a while before becoming pregnant, but treating your PCOS can help your chances.

Are there ways to reduce the unwanted hair on my face and body?

Yes, some forms of birth control can lower the amounts of male hormones, which can often reduce the amount of unwanted hair. Talk to your doctor about other medicines and treatment options.

For more information on PCOS, visit:

Still have questions? Come see us.

Our adolescent medicine team has special training to meet the unique needs of teens. We're here to help guide you and answer any questions you might have.

The information here is not intended to be nor should be used as a substitute for medical evaluation or treatment by a health care professional. This publication is for information purposes only and the reader assumes all associated risks.

Content experts: Victoria Elliott, M.D., and Jasmine Reese, M.D., M.P.H.

Sources:

  1. Rosenfield, Robert. “The Diagnosis of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome in Adolescents” Pediatrics Dec 2015, 136 (6) 1154-1165
  2. PCOS and Diabetes, Heart Disease, Stroke: cdc.gov/diabetes/library/spotlights/pcos Updated March 14, 2018. Accessed August 6, 2018.