What is Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)?

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a common disorder in teenage girls and women that affects hormonal and reproductive health. PCOS can have potentially serious long-term effects if left untreated. PCOS can affect girls at any age after puberty begins.

What Causes PCOS?

Doctors are not sure what causes PCOS. They believe the following might play a role:

  • Genetics
  • Weight gain or obesity
  • Higher levels of insulin in the body than usual and insulin resistance. Insulin is a hormone that helps the body use sugar available in food for energy. When someone has insulin resistance, the body does not use insulin properly.
  • Higher levels of androgens (male hormones) in the body than usual

What are the Symptoms and Signs of PCOS?

Common symptoms of PCOS include:

  • Irregular menses (periods). This may include having fewer periods, no periods or heavier periods than expected
  • Excess body or facial hair (also known as hirsutism)
  • Severe acne
  • Male-pattern baldness (baldness or hair loss that in areas typically seen in older men)
  • Infertility or trouble getting pregnant (in adult women)

In patients who have PCOS and obesity, which is commonly associated with PCOS, long-term risks (when left untreated) include:

  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Infertility (trouble getting pregnant)
  • Endometrial cancer (cancer of the uterine lining)
  • Heart disease
  • Sleep apnea

Rev. 3/2020. Mass General for Children and Massachusetts General Hospital do not endorse any of the brands listed on this handout. This handout is intended to provide health information so that you can be better informed. It is not a substitute for medical advice and should not be used to treatment of any medical conditions.