Polycystic Ovary Syndrome

What is it?

Overview

What Is It?
Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is generally characterized by the presence of polycystic ovaries, hyperandrogenism (the condition caused by excess male hormones or male-like traits) and irregular ovulation and menstruation.

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is the most common cause of infertility in reproductive-age women and an important harbinger of metabolic disorders such as diabetes and heart disease. It affects an estimated 5 to 10 percent of females and is associated with an increased risk of diabetes and obesity, and as a result, an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. The syndrome is generally characterized by the presence of polycystic ovaries, hyperandrogenism (the condition caused by excess male hormones or male-like traits) and irregular ovulation and menstruation. The symptoms of PCOS can vary.

The syndrome was previously called Stein-Leventhal Syndrome after the physicians who first characterized it in the 1930s. It usually presents in young women or adolescents, and the main symptoms are irregular or absent periods and excess unwanted facial and/or body hair growth (hirsutism). As the term polycystic ovary syndrome suggests, the syndrome often is accompanied by enlarged ovaries containing multiple small painless "cysts" or tiny follicles about 1/8 to 1/4 inch in diameter.

During a normal menstrual cycle in which a woman ovulates (called an ovulatory cycle), a small number of follicles begin to grow. One becomes the biggest, or dominant, follicle. This dominant follicle then ruptures and releases the egg.

In women with PCOS, however, high levels of hormones called androgens (commonly known as "male hormones") halt the normal hormonal process and the egg's development. These halted or arrested follicles––whose appearance (via an ultrasound) is sometimes likened to a "string of pearls" on the outside border of the ovary––form the "cysts" observed in PCOS. These cysts are not tumors and do not require removal. Treatment of PCOS, instead, is through the use of lifestyle modifications and medication to treat symptoms.

Many, but not all, women with PCOS will have the polycystic-looking ovaries (which are often two to five times larger than normal ovaries) for which the syndrome is named, but it is possible to be diagnosed with the syndrome without having this sign. And not all women with polycystic-appearing ovaries will have PCOS.

While the biochemical imbalances that cause symptoms are becoming better understood, the trigger for PCOS is unknown. Some researchers believe that abnormal levels of the pituitary hormone LH and high levels of male hormones (androgens) prevent the ovaries from functioning normally. Others believe that the origin is in abnormalities in the genes that regulate the production of androgens or the action of insulin.

Some patients with PCOS experience excess insulin production from the pancreas, which can result from insulin resistance. Insulin resistance is a precursor to type 2 diabetes. The high levels of insulin in these women help stimulate the ovaries to overproduce androgens and may be the cause of PCOS in some women.

Insulin resistance in women with PCOS results from the fact that in these women the body's cells don't respond well to insulin. Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas. It regulates a range of functions, including controlling blood sugar and fats. With insulin resistance, the pancreas produces excessive amounts of insulin, leading to a condition called hyperinsulinism or hyperinsulinemia.

In addition to stimulating the ovaries to overproduce male hormones (called androgens), high levels of insulin can cause darkening of the skin around the neck and other crease areas, a condition called acanthosis nigricans, often accompanied by skin tags in these areas.

If the pancreas can't produce enough insulin to compensate for the insulin resistance, glucose builds up in the blood, eventually leading to type 2 diabetes.

About 80 percent of obese women with PCOS have insulin resistance by age 40 and about 10 percent develop type 2 diabetes. Insulin resistance and an increased risk of diabetes is also a problem for normal weight women with PCOS, although less so than for obese women. For obese women with PCOS, their treatment plans should incorporate diet and exercise.

Obesity in women with PCOS tends to be centered on the abdomen, a fat distribution pattern linked to increased risk of diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure.

Up to 50 percent of women with PCOS also have sleep apnea, a condition that causes brief spells where breathing stops during sleep. Sleep apnea can worsen the degree of insulin resistance.

The most visible symptoms of PCOS stem from excessive levels of androgens, such as testosterone, produced by the ovaries and the adrenal glands. Androgens often are called "male hormones," even though they are found in both men and women. They are usually present at higher concentrations in men and are an important factor in determining male traits and reproductive activity. Androgens include testosterone, dihydrotestosterone (DHT), androstenedione and dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) or the HS sulfated form (DHEA-S).

Excessive levels of these hormones, a condition called hyperandrogenemia, or their exaggerated action, called hyperandrogensim can lead to some of the most common symptoms of PCOS in women, including:

  • Excess body or facial hair (hirsutism)
  • Oily skin and acne
  • Oligo-ovulation (irregular ovulation and menstruation)
  • Scalp hair loss and balding (male pattern balding and androgenic alopecia)

But such symptoms alone are not enough to support a diagnosis of PCOS. They may only indicate the presence of hyperandrogenism, which can result from several conditions.

Women with PCOS ovulate irregularly and/or infrequently and often have irregular menstrual periods. Inducing a period is important because the hormone progesterone promotes the normal shedding of the uterine lining (i.e., menstruation), preventing the buildup of the uterine lining and reducing the risk of endometrial (uterine) cancer. However, progesterone is secreted by the ovaries only after ovulation occurs.

PCOS often is a cause of infertility due to failure to ovulate.

Women with PCOS are more likely to be overweight or obese, although the exact relationship is unknown. Excess weight worsens PCOS, but researchers do not yet know whether or not having PCOS makes patients more prone to obesity.

It is not surprising that women with PCOS often suffer from poor self image and may experience depression or anxiety.

PCOS is mostly a genetic disorder. For example, an estimated 50 percent of sisters and 40 percent of mothers of patients with PCOS can be affected.

To date there is no cure for PCOS. Health care professionals usually address the most bothersome symptoms. Because of the complexity of the hormonal interactions, you may need to see an endocrinologist or a reproductive endocrinologist (especially if you are infertile and trying to conceive).

Diagnosis

Diagnosis

Diagnosis begins with an inventory of signs and symptoms, the most common of which are:

  • Unwanted hair growth or hirsutism (excess body and/or facial hair in a male-like pattern, particularly on the chin, upper lip, breasts, inner thighs and abdomen)
  • Irregular or infrequent periods
  • Obesity, primarily around the abdomen (although only about 30 percent to 60 percent of patients are obese)
  • Acne and/or oily skin (particularly severe acne in teenagers or acne that persists into adulthood)
  • Infertility
  • Ovarian appearance suggesting polycystic ovaries
  • Hair loss or balding
  • Acanthosis nigricans (darkening of the skin, usually on the neck; also a sign of insulin problems), often with skin tags (small tags of excess skin), most often seen in the armpit or neck area

Women with PCOS may have varying combinations of these and other signs and symptoms, but two essential features of the disorder are:

  • Hyperandrogenism, (signs of male-like traits, such as hirsutism) and/or hyperandrogenemia (excess blood levels of androgens). Androgens are hormones such as testosterone that in excess quantities cause such symptoms as hirsutism and acne. In more severe cases, "virilization"––taking on significant male characteristics, including severe excess facial and body hair, an enlarged clitoris, baldness at the temples, acne, deepening of the voice, increased muscularity and an increased sex drive––may occur. However, virilization is more frequently a sign of an androgen-producing tumor, which should be searched for.
  • Lack of ovulation or irregular ovulation often resulting in irregular or absent menstruation. Women with PCOS usually have oligomenorrhea (eight or fewer periods per year) or amenorrhea (absence of periods for extended periods).

The diagnostic process should include a thorough physical examination and history to check for signs and symptoms of hypothyroidism, Cushing's syndrome (a hormonal disorder in which the adrenal glands malfunction), adrenal hyperplasia (a genetic condition that results in male hormone excess produced by the adrenal glands), and androgen-secreting tumors (of the ovary, adrenal gland, etc.). While there is no single test for PCOS, a health care professional may measure blood levels of the following:

  • Thyroid hormone (symptoms of low thyroid function, or hypothyroidism, include irregular menstruation, similar to that of PCOS)
  • Prolactin (high levels of this hormone, which stimulates milk production, often results in irregular or absent menses similar to that seen in PCOS)
  • Level of 17-hydroxyprogesterone, a marker for the most common cause of adrenal hyperplasia (called non-classic adrenal hyperplasia due to 21-hydroxylase deficiency). If the screening level is high, your doctor may choose to perform an adrenal stimulation test.
  • Androgen levels, including dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate (DHEAS), and total and free testosterone. Androgen-producing tumors, although they are rare, can result in some of the masculinizing symptoms of PCOS. If your testosterone level is persistently very high, your health care professional may want to investigate further.
  • Follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH) levels. FSH promotes the development of egg-containing follicles in the ovaries, while LH stimulates ovulation as well as follicle rupture and encourages the empty follicle to convert to progesterone production. A high ratio of LH to FSH (greater than 2:1 or 3:1) may be characteristic of PCOS, although this ratio is less useful in obese women.

In general, a two-hour glucose tolerance test, where your blood is drawn before you drink a sugary solution and again one and two hours afterward, is best for diabetes predictors in women with PCOS.

These tests should be interpreted carefully by a specialist, such as an endocrinologist or reproductive endocrinologist. The best time to be tested is in the morning just after your menstrual period begins (you may need medication to induce menstruation). Birth control pills might make the tests difficult to interpret because they change the hormonal balance and may mask any abnormalities that may exist in male hormones.

Your health care professional may order ultrasound imaging of the ovaries to look for the characteristic picture of multiple cysts. An ultrasound may also be used to look for abnormalities in the lining of the uterus, called the endometrium.

The ultrasound test usually involves insertion of a probe into the vagina, although a transabdominal ultrasound, in which the ultrasound is passed over your abdomen, can be performed, particularly in women who have never been sexually active.

PCOS is also associated with an increased risk of diabetes and obesity, and as a result, an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. If you have PCOS, you should be tested and treated for insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and elevated blood lipids (cholesterol and triglycerides). Women with PCOS who become pregnant should be advised that they are at increased risk of developing gestational diabetes.

Treatment

Treatment

Treatment of polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) centers on lifestyle modifications and medication. Surgical procedures to destroy or shrink the ovarian cysts are less likely to be performed today given the success of hormonal treatments. If you fail to ovulate with conventional treatment (the fertility drug clomiphene citrate Clomid) and can't, for whatever reason, proceed to gonadotropin shots or in vitro fertilization (IVF), your doctor may recommend an outpatient surgery called laparoscopic ovarian drilling.

Because the primary cause of PCOS is unknown, treatment is directed at the primary symptoms of the disorder, which include excess hair growth, irregular periods and infertility.

Excess hair growth

For some women, the most bothersome symptom is hirsutism (excess facial and/or body hair, often dark and coarse). This symptom, as well as acne and oily skin, stem from the overproduction of androgens. For women with these symptoms, an anti-androgen medication like spironolactone (Aldactone) or flutamide (Eulexin) may be prescribed.

Spironolactone is a diuretic that works by blocking the action of testosterone at the hair follicle. Side effects are generally mild and may include heartburn and upset stomach, sun sensitivity, increased urination and lower blood pressure causing weakness or faintness. At high doses, it can clear oily skin and make unwanted hair finer. Flutamide, a drug used to treat prostate cancer in men, has fewer side effects than spironolactone, although it rarely can cause liver damage. Both spironolactone and flutamide contain an FDA "black box" warning because they may cause birth defects (particularly in a male fetus) if taken while pregnant. Talk to your health care professional about potential risks.

A drug used to treat enlarged prostate and baldness in men––called finasteride (Propecia)––may also be useful in women with hyperandrogenism symptoms, including hirsutism. The drug stops the action of an enzyme called 5-alpha reductase, which converts testosterone to the more powerful dihydrotestosterone. It is not FDA-approved for excess hair growth in women, but it is sometimes used off-label for this purpose. Finasteride, however, can also cause birth defects in a male fetus (pregnant women should not even handle the drug in crushed tablet form). And many insurance companies won't cover the drug for cosmetic reasons.

If you are trying to conceive, you cannot take an anti-androgen medication because it could cross the placenta and cause defects in a male fetus. Usually, anti-androgen medications are used in combination with birth control pills, which not only prevent unplanned pregnancies, but also improve the success of these medications on excess hair growth.

Electrolysis, and possibly lasers, can remove any remaining hairs permanently.

Eflornithine hydrochloride (Vaniqa) may also help slow the hair growth on the face. It works well in about one-third to one-half of women using it. The medication is applied to the face twice a day like a moisturizer. It works by blocking a key enzyme that makes hair grow. Noticeable results take about six to eight weeks. It must be used regularly or the hair will grow back after about eight weeks.

Bear in mind that it can take up to nine months to see effects on hair growth and a year or longer to achieve peak effect. The hair will still be there, but it will generally grow more slowly and be lighter and finer.

Irregular periods

If irregular and/or infrequent menstruation is a problem, birth control pills that contain estrogen and progestin can generally regulate your cycles. Restoring regular periods is essential since it ensures that the lining of the uterus is shed, protecting against uterine cancer. Birth control pills also reduce the production of androgens by the ovaries.

Rare side effects of birth control pills include migraines, nausea and headaches, and, rarely blood clots (especially among smokers and women with persistent high blood pressure), gallbladder disease and high blood pressure.

If you don't want to take a daily medication, talk to your doctor about a course of progestogen (progesterone-like drugs) several times a year to start your periods. It is important to have at least six to eight periods a year to promote shedding of the endometrial lining; buildup can lead to cancer. However, periodic progesterone alone does not help reduce unwanted hair growth as birth control pills do.

Another drug that helps regulate periods in some women with PCOS is the insulin-sensitizing drug metformin (Glucophage). Metformin regulates blood glucose (sugar) levels by reducing the amount of glucose the liver produces, reducing the amount of glucose absorbed from food and reducing the levels of insulin in the blood by helping the insulin that your body produces work better to reduce the amount of glucose already in your blood.

The drug is not FDA-approved for PCOS, but research done so far shows it helps modestly improve ovulation and may reduce androgen levels. If you are among the 10 percent or so of women with PCOS who already have type 2 diabetes, metformin is also a good therapeutic option. Experts aren't sure, however, if metformin is as effective at preventing endometrial cancer in women with PCOS as birth control pills or progesterone.

If you are prescribed metformin, be sure to inform your health care professional of all other medications you are taking, including over-the-counter medicines, to prevent drug interactions.

Infertility

Infertility often is a consequence of PCOS. If you are overweight or obese, the first line of treatment is weight loss; even losing a little bit of weight may stimulate ovulation. Weight loss can also boost the effectiveness of other infertility treatments.

The second line of treatment is the ovulation-stimulating drug clomiphene (Clomid or Serophene), which is used to treat infertile women with ovulation problems. It works by helping the pituitary gland send hormonal signals to stimulate the development of more eggs in the ovaries. Clomiphene stimulates ovulation in about 80 percent of women with PCOS, and about half of these women become pregnant.

If clomiphene doesn't work, your doctor may suggest using gonadotropins or the insulin-sensitizing drug metformin (Glucophage) in combination with clomiphene.

Treatment with gonadotropins—purified solutions of follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) with or without luteinizing hormone (LH)—may be administered by injection. Because many women with PCOS have elevated LH, some doctors may recommend treatment with FSH alone.

But treatment with gonadotropins, while effective, is more challenging to manage and more expensive. Some women also have some trouble self-administering the injections. Risks include multiple births and ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome. In many patients mild signs and symptoms of hyperstimulation may occur, including bloating, fluid retention, weight gain and a tender stomach. In more severe cases fluid from the bloodstream leaks into the abdominal cavity, causing it to swell, and making the blood thicker. This may lead to breathing difficulties, temporary kidney failure and blood clots. Thus, gonadotropins should only be prescribed by clinicians specifically trained in their use.

Another option for women who fail to ovulate with clomiphene or metformin therapy, or who are unwilling or unable to use gonadotropins (or can't afford to use them), is a surgical procedure known as laparoscopic ovarian drilling.

During this procedure, a surgeon makes a small incision in your abdomen and inserts a laparoscope (a telescope-like instrument attached to a tiny camera). The surgeon then makes other small incisions and inserts surgical equipment that uses electrical or laser energy to burn small holes in the enlarged follicles on the surface of your ovaries. The goal of the procedure is to stimulate ovulation by reducing LH and androgen levels.

Additionally, many women who failed to ovulate with clomiphene or metformin therapy are able to ovulate with these medications after ovarian drilling. The success rates for laparoscopic ovarian drilling appear to be better for patients at or near their ideal body weight, as opposed to those who are obese. Interestingly, women in these studies who are smokers rarely improved with the drilling procedure. Side effects are rare, primarily adhesions, although laparoscopic ovarian surgery requires general anesthesia, which carries its own risks.

Other Approaches

Long-term, nonmedical treatment is geared toward modifying your risk factors for health problems often associated with PCOS, including diabetes, uncontrollable weight gain and heart disease. A healthy, low-sugar, low-starch diet and an exercise program to stabilize your weight can reduce the risk of these conditions.

You can take care of some problems associated with PCOS without medication. Excess hair can be removed by shaving, tweezing, waxing or using depilatory creams, or by electrolysis or laser techniques administered by a trained professional. Since lasers work by attacking a skin pigment, they should be used with caution by darker-skinned women.

If you are overweight and have PCOS, you need to lose weight. Losing even just a small amount of weight can lower androgen and insulin levels, reducing your risk of insulin resistance and diabetes. One study found that when obese women with PCOS lost more than 5 percent of their body weight, their androgen levels dropped and their periods became more regular.

Exercise alone, even without weight loss, is also beneficial since it helps improve insulin sensitivity.

It seems that some PCOS symptoms improve as women near menopause, but some of the complications may persist into or beyond menopause, particularly male pattern baldness or thinning hair, which sometimes gets worse after menopause. The risk for heart attack, stroke and diabetes also increases in menopause in women with PCOS. In cases where PCOS symptoms persist, the best recommendation is to monitor cholesterol, triglycerides and blood pressure, as well as glucose and insulin levels.

Prevention

Prevention

There is no known way to prevent polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). Researchers are still working to understand the underlying causes. However, if you have PCOS there is a high likelihood that your daughter or sister will have the disorder. There are steps you can take to prevent some of the worst consequences of the disorder––diabetes, uterine cancer, high blood pressure and high levels of blood lipids (a risk factor for heart disease).

If you do not menstruate, inducing menstruation with a progesterone-like agent should be a top priority. During menstruation, the endometrial lining is shed in response to withdrawal of the progestogen hormone. Without this shedding, your risk of uterine cancer rises significantly. Birth control pills, which combine estrogen and progestin, can restore regular periods. If you don't want to take a daily medication, a course of progesterone, such as medroxyprogesterone acetate, micronized progesterone or norethindrone acetate, taken for 10 to 14 days every one to three months, may help.

If you are overweight, losing weight is a big step toward lowering your risk for diabetes and heart disease. Losing weight can help restore regular periods and improve other hormonal imbalances, but weight loss is often an incomplete solution to PCOS.

Facts to Know

Facts to Know

  1. Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is the most common endocrine disturbance in women of reproductive age, affecting an estimated 5 to 10 percent of all women.

  2. No one knows exactly what causes PCOS, although evidence suggests a definite genetic link to the disorder.

  3. Many women with PCOS will have polycystic ovaries, but it is possible to be diagnosed with the syndrome without this sign, and not all women with polycystic-appearing ovaries will have PCOS.

  4. Many PCOS symptoms are the result of high levels of androgens. These hormones are often called "male hormones" even though they are found in both men and women. Androgens include testosterone, DHT, androstenedione and DHEA. Other hormones can be converted into testosterone or DHT.

  5. About half of women with PCOS experience gradual weight gain and obesity. In some women with PCOS, obesity develops around the time of puberty.

  6. PCOS is strongly linked to insulin resistance (a precursor to type 2 diabetes and heart disease). For women with PCOS who are obese, the treatment plan should incorporate a diet and exercise program. About 80 percent of women with PCOS who are obese have insulin resistance, and about 10 percent have type 2 diabetes. However, not all women who have PCOS are insulin-resistant or diabetic

  7. Women with PCOS are at increased risk for developing type 2 diabetes and obesity, and as a result have an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.

  8. If you are overweight, losing weight is a major step toward lowering your risk for diabetes and heart disease. Losing weight can help restore regular periods and improve other hormonal imbalances, but weight loss is often an incomplete solution to PCOS.

  9. If irregular and/or infrequent menstruation is a problem, birth control pills or periodic courses of a progestin alone can probably get you on schedule again. During menstruation, the lining of the uterus is shed, providing protection against uterine cancer, so restoring regular periods is important.

  10. Occasionally, PCOS symptoms are the result of an androgen-producing tumor. If symptoms are severe or progress rapidly, or your testosterone level is very high or your cortisol level is elevated, your health care professional may want to investigate further.

Questions to Ask

Questions to Ask

Review the following Questions to Ask about polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) so you're prepared to discuss this important health issue with your health care professional.

  1. How much experience do you have diagnosing and treating PCOS? If you don't have a lot of experience, can you recommend a specialist?
  2. How long will it take to see effects from my medications? How dramatic can I expect the effects to be?
  3. What are the side effects of these medications? How can I spot them early?
  4. How do you feel about prescribing insulin sensitizers?
  5. I don't want to take birth control pills. What alternatives can you recommend?
  6. Is it safe to get pregnant or breastfeed on these medications?
  7. What steps should I take if I decide I want to get pregnant?
  8. Can you recommend any lifestyle changes that might make a difference in my condition? How big a change can I expect?
  9. For my skin color and type, what is an optimal hair removal method?
  10. How does PCOS affect my other health conditions?

Key Q&A

Key Q&A

  1. What is polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)?

    PCOS is a hormonal disorder linked to hyperandrogenism (a condition caused by excess androgens such as testosterone) and irregular ovulation. Visible signs and symptoms may include hirsutism (excess body and/or facial hair); irregular or infrequent periods;; acne and/or oily skin (particularly severe acne in teenagers or acne that persists into adulthood); infertility; insulin resistance (often resulting in impaired glucose tolerance, a frequent precursor to type 2 diabetes); hair loss or balding; darkening of the skin, usually on the neck; and skin tags in the armpit or on the neck. Women with PCOS may also have, as the name suggests, ovarian cysts, which are small and numerous.

  2. How is PCOS diagnosed?

    A health care professional will take a thorough history and do a complete physical examination and may do a series of blood tests to check for hormone imbalances characteristic of PCOS. Ultrasound imaging of the ovaries may also be performed. Most women with PCOS will have irregular or absent menstrual periods.

  3. Which health care professional should I see?

    Most cases require the expertise of an endocrinologist or reproductive endocrinologist.

  4. Should I try an insulin sensitizer to treat PCOS?

    Certainly, if you have insulin resistance or type 2 diabetes an insulin sensitizer would be an acceptable approach to treatment. In women with irregular periods, the first line of treatment is usually hormonal birth control, such as birth control pills or the birth control patch. In women who cannot take hormonal birth control, one alternative is to take the insulin-sensitizing drug metformin (Glucophage). A progestin (for example, Provera) is usually prescribed together with metformin for six months or until menstrual cycles become regular.

  5. What can I do if I can't conceive?

    The first line of treatment is usually weight loss in women with PCOS who are overweight or obese. If a woman is unable to lose weight or if modest weight loss does not restore ovulation, an ovulation-stimulating drug such as clomiphene citrate (Clomid) is prescribed. Potential side effects include hot flashes, ovarian swelling that goes down with the onset of your period and an increased possibility of twins. If clomiphene alone doesn't work, the next step may be a combination of clomiphene and metformin, injectable gonadotropins or laparoscopic ovarian drilling.

  6. Do I have to take birth control pills if I have PCOS?

    Birth control pills are frequently prescribed to return your menstrual cycles to normal, but you can instead take a course of progesterone, such as medroxyprogesterone acetate, micronized progesterone or norethindrone acetate periodically. You take it for seven to 14 days every one to three months. Progesterone-induced menstruation is essential, because it sloughs off the endometrial lining, helping prevent uterine cancer. Cyclic progestin does not suppress male hormones levels, while birth control pills will.

  7. My ovaries have been removed. Can I still have PCOS?

    You can still have PCOS because PCOS is a condition that not only affects the ovaries but also the adrenal gland and the regulation of insulin. However, without ovaries, the hyperandrogenic symptoms of PCOS are lessened.

  8. I've been taking medication as prescribed for weeks and have seen no improvement. What should I do?

    Stick with the program a while longer. It may take six months or longer to begin to see effects of spironolactone on hair growth, for example. Metformin, likewise, takes two to three months to reach full effect on insulin levels. Consider adding a weight-reduction program as well, if this is an issue.

  9. Do the symptoms of PCOS ever suggest anything more serious?

    Yes, the possibilities include an androgen-producing tumor, Cushing's syndrome, hyperprolactinemia, adrenal hyperplasia, or hypothyroidism. A thorough diagnosis is important, especially if your levels of testosterone are above a certain level, or you have symptoms of "virilization" such as facial beard, clitoromegaly (enlarged clitoris), balding at the temples, deepening voice or muscle enlargement.

  10. Should I be tested for diabetes if I have PCOS?

    Due to the link between insulin abnormalities and insulin level and PCOS, every woman diagnosed with PCOS should have a fasting glucose and insulin test to check for insulin resistance and diabetes. In general, a two-hour glucose tolerance test, where you drink a sugary solution and your blood is drawn before and one and two hours afterward, is best for diabetes predictors in women with PCOS. If you have diabetes, it is important to begin treatment and monitoring early to avoid complications.

Organizations and Support

Organizations and Support

For information and support on coping with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, please see the recommended organizations, books and Spanish-language resources listed below.

American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM)
Website: http://www.asrm.org
Address: 1209 Montgomery Highway
Birmingham, AL 35216
Phone: 205-978-5000
Email: asrm@asrm.org

Association of Reproductive Health Professionals (ARHP)
Website: http://www.arhp.org
Address: 1901 L Street, NW, Suite 300
Washington, DC 20036
Phone: 202-466-3825
Email: arhp@arhp.org

Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome Association
Website: http://www.pcosupport.org
Address: P.O. Box 3403
Englewood, CO 80111
Hotline: 1-877-775-PCOS (1-877-775-7267)
Email: info@pcosupport.org

A Gynecologist's Second Opinion
by William H. Parker and Rachel L. Parker

Pocket PCOS: A Quick and Practical Guide to Polycystic Ovary Syndrome with Personal Testimonies
by Christopher Hearn and M.D. Shahab S. Minassian

Medline Plus: Ovarian Cysts
Website: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/spanish/ovariancysts.html
Address: Customer Service
8600 Rockville Pike
Bethesda, MD 20894
Email: custserv@nlm.nih.gov

American Academy of Family Physicians
Website: http://familydoctor.org/online/famdoces/home/women/reproductive/gynecologic/279.printerview.html

Last date updated: 
Wed, 2012-02-08

"Patient information: Polycystic ovary syndrome." Uptodate.com. May 2011. http://www.uptodate.com/contents/patient-information-polycystic-ovary-syndrome-pcos
Accessed September 2011.

"Patient information: Infertility treatment with clomiphene." Uptodate.com. May 2011. http://www.uptodate.com/contents/patient-information-infertility-treatment-with-clomiphene-clomid-or-serophene. Accessed September 2011.

"How do you know when it's PCOS?" Johns Hopkins Children's Center. July 2010. http://www.hopkinschildrens.org/how-do-you-know-when-it-is-pcos.aspx. Accessed September 2011.

Azziz R, Carmina E, Dewailly D, et al., for the Task Force on the Phenotype of the Polycystic Ovary Syndrome of The Androgen Excess and PCOS Society. "The Androgen Excess and PCOS Society criteria for the polycystic ovary syndrome: the complete task force report." Fertil Steril. 2009;91:456-88.

"Patient information: PCOS." Uptodate.com. January 2009. Subscription necessary to view text. Accessed May 2009.

"Polycystic Ovary Syndrome." The Mayo Clinic. August 2007. http://www.mayoclinic.com. Accessed May 2009.

"Polycystic ovary syndrome." Medline. The National Institutes of Health. February 2008. http://www.nlm.nih.gov. Accessed May 2009.

"Patient information: Hirsutism (excess hair growth)." Uptodate.com. January 2009. Subscription necessary to view text. Accessed May 2009.

"Polycystic ovary syndrome." The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. April 2007. http://www.womenshealth.gov. Accessed May 2009.

Kahsar-Miller MD, Nixon C, Boots LR, Go RC, Azziz R. "Prevalence of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) in first-degree relatives of patients with PCOS." Fertil Steril. 2001;75(1):52-8.

Moghetti P, Tosi F, Tosti A, et al. "Comparison of Spironolactone, Flutamide, and Finasteride Efficacy in the Treatment of Hirsutism: A Randomized, Double Blind, Placebo-Controlled Trial." J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2000;85(1):89-94.

Azziz R, Hincapie LA, Knochenhauer ES, Dewailly D, Fox L, Boots LR. "Screening for 21-hydroxylase—deficient nonclassic adrenal hyperplasia among hyperandrogenic women: a prospective study." Fertil Steril. 1999;72(5):915-25.

Polycystic Ovary Syndrome. 4woman.gov. National Women's Health Information Center. April 2001. http://www.4woman.gov. Accessed December 10, 2004.

"Polycystic Ovary Syndrome Frequently Asked Questions." InterNational Council on Infertility Information Dissemination (INCIID). Updated October 27, 2004. http://www.inciid.org. Accessed December 10, 2004.

CDER New and Generic Drug Approvals: 1998-2004. Center for Drug Evaluation and Research. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. http://www.fda.gov. Accessed December 10, 2004.

Mitwally MF, Casper RF. "Single dose administration of the aromatase inhibitor, letrazole, a simple and convenient effective method of ovulation induction." Fertil Steril. 2001; 76:S94. Presented at the 57th Annual Meeting of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine; October 20-25, 2001; Orlando, Florida.

Perbe, M. "Polycystic Ovary Syndrome: Treatment with Insulin Lowering Medications" IVF.com. Copyright 2003. http://www.ivf.com. Accessed December 10, 2004.

Sawin, SW. "Laparoscopic Ovarian Cautery (Drilling): A surgical approach to assist ovulation" OBGYN.net Publications. http://www.obgyn.net. Accessed December 10, 2004.

Hunter, MH and Sterrett, JJ. "Polycystic Ovary Syndrome: It's Not Just Infertility" American Family Physician. Published Sept. 1, 2000. http://www.aafp.org. Accessed December 10, 2004.

"Research Study Directory." Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome Association. Published 2001. http://www.pcosupport.org. Accessed December 10, 2004.

Taylor, A, Dunaif, A. "Chapter 15—Polycystic Ovary Syndrome and Hyperandrogenism." Kistner's Gynecology and Women's Health, 7th ed. Kenneth Ryan, Ed. St. Louis: Mosby Inc. 2000. 325-353. 373-395.

Berga, S. "Polycystic Ovary Syndrome—Metabolic Challenges and New Treatment Options." American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology. Dec. 1998. Vol 179, No. 6.

Guzick, D. "Polycystic ovary syndrome: Symptomology, pathophysiology and epidemiology." American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology. Dec. 1998. Vol 179, No. 6. 89-100.

Legro, R. "Polycystic ovary syndrome: Current and future treatment paradigms." American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology. Dec. 1998. Vol 179, No. 6. 101-108.

"What is PCOS?" PCOS 101. Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome Association. http://www.pcosupport.org. Accessed December 10, 2004.

Legro RS, Finegood D, Dunaif A. A fasting glucose to insulin ratio is a useful measure of insulin sensitivity in women with polycystic ovary syndrome [see comments]. Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism 1998 Aug;83(8):2694-8.

Legro RS, Kunselman AR, Dodson WC, Dunaif A. Prevalence and predictors of risk for type 2 diabetes mellitus and impaired glucose tolerance in polycystic ovary syndrome: a prospective, controlled study in 254 affected women. Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism 1999;84(1):165-9.

Lord JM, Flight IH, Norman RJ. Metformin in polycystic ovary syndrome: systematic review and meta-analysis. BMJ 2003 Oct 25;327(7421):951-3.

Azziz R, Ehrmann D, Legro RS, Whitcomb RW, Hanley R, Fereshetian AG, O'Keefe M, Ghazzi MN, PCOS/Troglitazone Study Group. Troglitazone improves ovulation and hirsutism in the polycystic ovary syndrome: a multicenter, double blind, placebo-controlled trial. Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism 2001 Apr;86(4):1626-32.

"Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS)" U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. December 2004. http://www.4woman.gov. Accessed December 2005.

"Ovarian drilling" Georgia Reproductive Specialists. 2005. http://www.ivf.com. Accessed December 2005.

"Flutamide" Medline Plus. October 2005. http://www.nlm.nih.gov. Accessed December 2005.

"Medications Used Commonly in Fertility Treatments." California IVF: Davis Fertility Center, Inc. 2005. http://www.californiaivf.com. Accessed December 2005.

"Ovarian Hyperstimulation Syndrome (OHSS)" Pregnancy MD.org. September 17, 2001. http://www.pregnancymd.org. Accessed December 2005.


Last date updated: 2012-02-08