Please note: This information was current at the time of publication. But medical information is always changing, and some information given here may be out of date. For regularly updated information on a variety of health topics, please visit, the AAFP patient education website.

Information from Your Family Doctor

Polycystic Ovary Syndrome


Am Fam Physician. 2000 Sep 1;62(5):1090.

  See related article on polycystic ovary syndrome.

What is polycystic ovary syndrome? Who gets it?

If your hormones don't work in the normal way, your ovaries might make too many eggs. Those eggs turn into many cysts. The cysts (say: sists) are like little balloons filled with liquid.

Polycystic ovary syndrome is called PCOS for short. Women in their childbearing years can get it. It often begins in the teenage years. It doesn't go away.

What are the signs of PCOS?

Usually, women with PCOS have irregular menstrual periods. After a while, some women stop having any periods. Women with PCOS may have trouble getting pregnant.

About 70 percent of women with PCOS have extra hair growing in the sideburn area of their face and on their chin, upper lip, nipple area, chest, lower abdomen and thighs. They may get acne. About half are obese. Some women with PCOS have no signs of it.

What causes PCOS?

Doctors don't know what causes PCOS. If you have PCOS, you may have a problem with the way your body uses blood sugar (glucose). Because of this problem, the hormones that control your ovaries and menstrual periods can become abnormal.

Does PCOS cause long-term problems?

If you have PCOS, you are more likely to get high blood pressure or diabetes. This means you have a greater risk for strokes and heart attacks.

Because of irregular menstrual periods, women with PCOS are more likely to be infertile (unable to get pregnant). They may also have a higher risk for cancer of the uterus or breast.

How can my doctor tell that I have PCOS?

Your doctor will look for the signs of PCOS. Blood tests that measure your hormone levels can help. An ultrasound exam can show if you have cysts on your ovaries.

How is PCOS treated?

If you have PCOS, you might need to lose weight. Medicine can help with your menstrual cycle, abnormal hair growth and acne. If you have diabetes or high blood pressure, they have to be treated. If you want to have a baby, there are medicines that may help you get pregnant.

Where can I find out more about PCOS?

You can get more information here:

PolyCystic Ovarian Syndrome Association, Inc.

P.O. Box 80517

Portland, OR 97280

Telephone (toll-free): 1-877-775-7267

Web site:


This handout is provided to you by your family doctor and the American Academy of Family Physicians. Other health-related information is available from the AAFP online at

This information provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. Talk to your family doctor to find out if this information applies to you and to get more information on this subject.


Copyright © 2000 by the American Academy of Family Physicians.
This content is owned by the AAFP. A person viewing it online may make one printout of the material and may use that printout only for his or her personal, non-commercial reference. This material may not otherwise be downloaded, copied, printed, stored, transmitted or reproduced in any medium, whether now known or later invented, except as authorized in writing by the AAFP. Contact for copyright questions and/or permission requests.

Want to use this article elsewhere? Get Permissions


Jan 2022

Access the latest issue of American Family Physician

Read the Issue

Email Alerts

Don't miss a single issue. Sign up for the free AFP email table of contents.

Sign Up Now

Navigate this Article