Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)
Periods, Weight, Skin, Fertility.
Dr Helen Webberley MBChB MRCGP MFSRH
GP and Reproductive Health Specialist
Dr Webberley is an NHS GP in South Wales and also runs online help for people who can’t get help on the NHS
Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a common condition that affects how a woman’s ovaries work.
PCOS affects millions of women in the UK.
The three main features of the condition are:
- cysts that develop in your ovaries (polycystic ovaries)
- your ovaries do not regularly release eggs (ovulate)
- having high levels of “male hormones” called androgens in your body
You will usually be diagnosed with PCOS if you have at least two of these features.
Read more about diagnosing polycystic ovary syndrome.
What are polycystic ovaries?
Polycystic ovaries contain a large number of harmless cysts up to 8mm in size. The cysts are under-developed sacs in which eggs develop. Often in PCOS, these sacs are unable to release an egg, meaning ovulation doesn’t take place.
It’s estimated that about 1 in every 5 women in the UK has polycystic ovaries, but more than half of these have no symptoms.
Signs and symptoms
Symptoms of PCOS usually become apparent during your late teens or early twenties. They can include:
- irregular periods or no periods at all
- difficulty getting pregnant (because of irregular ovulation or failure to ovulate)
- excessive hair growth (hirsutism) – usually on the face, chest, back or buttocks
- weight gain
- thinning hair and hair loss from the head
- oily skin or acne
If you would like medical help with prescribing for PCOS and fertility then I can help you.
Treating polycystic ovary syndrome
Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) can’t be cured, but the symptoms can be managed.
Treatment options can vary as someone with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) may experience a range of symptoms, or just one.
The main treatment options are discussed in more detail below.
In overweight women, the symptoms and overall risk of developing long-term health problems due to polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) can be greatly improved by losing excess weight. Weight loss of just 5% can lead to a significant improvement in PCOS.
Irregular or absent periods
The contraceptive pill may be recommended to induce regular periods or periods may be induced by progesterone tablets (which can be given regularly or intermittently).
Medications called clomifene and metformin are usually the first treatments used for women with PCOS who are trying to get pregnant. These medications encourage the monthly release of an egg from the ovaries (ovulation).
Unwanted hair growth and hair loss
Medications to control excessive hair growth (hirsutism) and hair loss (alopecia) include:
- particular types of combined oral contraceptive tablets (such as co-cyprindiol, Dianette. Marvelon and Yasmin)
- cyproterone acetate
These medications work by blocking the effects of “male hormones”, such as testosterone and some also suppress production of these hormones by the ovaries.
A cream called eflornithine can also be used to slow down the growth of unwanted facial hair.
Medications can also be used to treat some of the other problems associated with PCOS, including:
- weight-loss medication, such as orlistat, if you’re overweight
- cholesterol-lowering medication (statin), if you have high levels of cholesterol in your blood,
- acne treatments