Polycystic ovary syndrome – what are the signs of PCOS?

Polycystic ovary syndrome
Polycystic ovary syndrome

Symptoms Of PCOS

If you experience symptoms of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), they’ll usually become apparent in your late teens or early twenties.

Not all women with PCOS will have all of the symptoms, and each symptom can vary from mild to severe. Many women only experience menstrual problems and/or are unable to conceive.

Common symptoms of PCOS include:

irregular periods or no periods at all

difficulty getting pregnant (because of irregular ovulation or failure to ovulate)

excessive hair growth (hirsutism) – usually on the face, chest, back or buttocks

weight gain

thinning hair and hair loss from the head

oily skin or acne

You should talk to your GP if you have any of these symptoms and think you may have PCOS.

Fertility problems

PCOS is one of the most common causes of female infertility. Many women discover they have PCOS when they’re trying to get pregnant and are unsuccessful.

During each menstrual cycle, the ovaries release an egg (ovum) into the uterus (womb). This process is called ovulation and usually occurs once a month.

However, women with PCOS often fail to ovulate or ovulate infrequently, which means they have irregular or absent periods and find it difficult to get pregnant.

Risks in later life

Having PCOS can increase your chances of developing other health problems in later life. For example, women with PCOS are at increased risk of developing:

type 2 diabetes – a lifelong condition that causes a person’s blood sugar level to become too high

depression and mood swings – because the symptoms of PCOS can affect your confidence and self-esteem

high blood pressure and high cholesterol – which can lead to heart disease and stroke

sleep apnoea – overweight women may also develop sleep apnoea, a condition that causes interrupted breathing during sleep

Women who have had absent or very irregular periods (fewer than three or four periods a year) for many years have a higher-than-average risk of developing cancer of the womb lining (endometrial cancer).

However, the chance of getting endometrial cancer is still small and can be minimised using treatments to regulate periods, such as the contraceptive pill or an intrauterine system (IUS).