What is polycystic ovary syndrome? Can it be treated?

Polycystic ovaries are found by ultrasound scan in 25% of all women, but only 5% of women have polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). This includes symptoms such as infertility, irregular periods, absent periods, acne, excessive hair growth and weight gain.

PCOS is a complex hormonal condition which is not in itself dangerous and is the commonest cause of irregular periods. But it should be managed carefully depending on the symptoms and reproductive stage of life. It is often best to simply take the contraceptive pill to regulate the periods and keep the ovaries quiet (ie. Prevent the development of larger cysts). In some women who have been on the pill for many years, they only discover they have the condition when they stop taking the pill and don’t get their periods back.

The pill is also effective for improving skin and reducing excessive hairgrowth.

If fertility is a problem, there are numerous options which include simple tablets to induce ovulation (eg. Clomid or metformin), low dose injections of FSH hormone, laproscopic ovarian diathermy (‘drilling’) to induce natural ovulation, or IVF. In IVF, women with PCOS are at higher risk of being overstimulated (ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome, or OHSS) and need particularly careful planning of protocol and dose of stimulation.

Women with PCOS are also at increased risk of miscarriage, and this should be carefully assessed too, potentially with additional medication such as metformin or progesterone.

The good news is that women with PCOS have more eggs than other women, and so do ultimately have a good chance of success.

Download information booklets: