Please note: This information was current at the time of publication but now may be out of date. This handout provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. 

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Am Fam Physician. 2009;79(8):online

See related article on polycystic ovary syndrome.

What is polycystic ovary syndrome?

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a common condition usually related to an imbalance of hormones in your body. Some women with PCOS get small cysts (fluid-filled sacs) on their ovaries. Women with PCOS can also have higher than normal levels of androgens (one type of hormone).

How do I know if I have it?

Some of the more common symptoms are abnormal or irregular periods (periods that don't come during your normal cycle), trouble getting pregnant, excessive hair growth on your face or body, and higher than normal blood sugar levels.

How is it diagnosed?

PCOS is hard to diagnose because there are so many symptoms that occur in other diseases. Your doctor may first look for other causes of your symptoms to rule out these other diseases. He or she may also ask you about your medical history and period. You may need a physical exam, blood tests, an x-ray, or ultrasound.

How is it treated?

It depends on how PCOS is affecting your life, what symptoms you have, and what type of treatment you want. Some common treatments are weight loss, diet, exercise, medicine, and hair removal. Some women who are having trouble getting pregnant may need surgery.

What medicines are used to treat it?

Many medicines may be used because there are so many ways PCOS can affect patients. If you have high blood sugar, you may need to take medicines that are usually used to treat diabetes, such as metformin (one brand: Glucophage), rosiglitazone (one brand: Avandia), or pioglitazone (one brand: Actos). If you have excessive hair growth, you may need to take spironolactone (one brand: Aldactone) or use eflornithine cream (one brand: Vaniqa) on your face. If you have irregular periods, birth control pills may help to make your cycles more regular. If you have trouble getting pregnant, you may need to take a fertility drug, such as clomiphene (one brand: Clomid), or other medicines recommended by your doctor.

Where can I learn more about PCOS?

American Academy of Family Physicians

Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome Association

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