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Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a condition that affects the ovaries (the organs in a woman's body that produce eggs). With PCOS, the ovaries are bigger than usual and develop as a result of an imbalance in the hormones, which regulate the menstrual cycle.

In PCOS, the enlarged ovaries contain small cysts that remain immature and never grow to full development or ovulation to produce an egg capable of being fertilised, however, it’s important to note thatthe cysts do not require surgical removal nor do they lead to ovarian cancer.


It has been estimated that around 10% of women suffer from PCOS, however in a confusing statistical twist, about one woman in four have polycystic ovaries, yet they suffer no symptoms. The women who develop the symptoms below are deemed to have PCOS.

PCOS has a wide range of symptoms, which is why diagnosis can be difficult. It manifests itself in various ways, including, but not exclusively –

  • Absent or irregular periods – As infrequent as every five to six weeks, or in extreme cases, only once or twice a year. There can also be a lack of menstrual bleeding.
  • Infertility – Period irregularity is linked to occasional ovulation, reducing the likelihood of conceiving.
  • Recurrent miscarriage – A hormonal abnormality affecting the luteinising hormone, or LH, a hormone produced by the brain that affects ovary function.
  • Hirsutism – increased facial and body hair, usually found on the upper lip, chin, forearms, lower legs and abdomen.
  • Acne – Usually found on the face.
  • Excessive weight gain – Women with PCOS have body cells which are resistant to the sugar-control hormone insulin that prevents cells using sugar in the blood normally and instead stores it as fat. Additionally, recent research has also shown that due to this insulin resistance, those with PCOS are more likely to develop non-insulin dependent diabetes.

As always, in the first instance, if you think you may suffer from PCOS, see your GP. In order to make an accurate diagnosis, the doctor may need to take one or two blood samples to measure the hormone levels in the body. Ultrasound may also be used to see if there are cysts on the ovaries.

As with any medical condition, treatment depends on the severity of the symptoms. Generally, prescription drugs can be taken to rebalance the hormones so that ovulation and menstruation are normalized. Combined contraceptive pills are often prescribed or, alternatively, progesterone only pills. In full consultation with your doctor or specialist, it can be helpful to experiment and find the most suitable combination.

For PCOS sufferers who are experiencing difficulty in getting pregnant, there are a number of fertility treatments available that generally help to stimulate ovulation. For women who are overweight, weight loss is a priority so a healthy, balanced diet with plenty of water is critical. This can reduce the risk of diabetes and may help regulate periods and improve fertility

Unfortunately the hormonal imbalance of PCOS can make losing weight particularly difficult. It is, therefore, well worth consulting a supportive nutritionist who understands about the syndrome and who can offer impartial, practical advice.

Sufferers have reported success with alternative and complementary therapies. Herbal remedies such as Agnus Castus can be effective, and equally, some women have found acupuncture to be helpful in treating the hormonal disturbance that underlies this condition.

Others say that nutritional therapy and homeopathy reduce symptoms. Whichever therapy you decide upon it is worth taking the time to find a good therapist. Personal recommendation is generally reliable, otherwise the relevant professional body should be able to help.

If you do suffer from polycystic ovary syndrome, keep well informed about all the options that are available. It might be that mainstream treatments are best, or you may prefer lifestyle changes or alternative therapies. Only you can decide.