PCOS: Symptoms, Causes and Complications

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a hormonal disorder that affects women of reproductive age. It is characterized by the presence of multiple cysts (fluid-filled sacs) in the ovaries, irregular menstrual periods, and high levels of androgen hormones (such as testosterone) in the body. PCOS can have various symptoms and can vary in severity from person to person.

With PCOS, many small sacs of fluid develop along the outer edge of the ovary. These are called cysts. The small fluid-filled cysts contain immature eggs. These are called follicles. The follicles fail to regularly release eggs.

PCOS is characterized by hormonal imbalances, specifically elevated levels of androgens (male hormones) and insulin resistance. These imbalances can disrupt the normal functioning of the ovaries and lead to a range of symptoms.

Signs and Symptoms

  • Irregular menstrual periods: Women with PCOS may have infrequent, prolonged, or absent periods.
  • Excessive hair growth: Increased androgen levels can cause excessive hair growth on the face, chest, back, or other areas of the body (hirsutism).
  • Acne: Hormonal imbalances in PCOS can lead to acne breakouts.
  • Weight gain: Many women with PCOS struggle with weight gain or find it difficult to lose weight.
  • Thinning hair or hair loss: PCOS can cause hair thinning or male-pattern baldness.
  • Insulin resistance: PCOS is often associated with insulin resistance, which can lead to high blood sugar levels and an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
  • Mood swings: Some women with PCOS may experience mood swings, depression, or anxiety.

The exact cause of PCOS is not known, but it is believed to involve a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Insulin resistance and hormonal imbalances play a significant role in the development of PCOS.

PCOS is typically diagnosed based on a combination of symptoms, medical history, physical examination, and laboratory tests. There is no cure for PCOS, but the symptoms can be managed through lifestyle changes, medication, and other treatments.


The exact cause of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is not fully understood. However, there are several factors that are believed to contribute to the development of PCOS. These factors include:

  • Hormonal Imbalance: PCOS is characterized by an imbalance in the reproductive hormones, particularly elevated levels of androgens (male hormones) such as testosterone. This hormonal imbalance disrupts the normal functioning of the ovaries and leads to the formation of cysts.
  • Insulin Resistance: Insulin is a hormone that helps regulate blood sugar levels. Many women with PCOS have insulin resistance, which means their bodies have difficulty using insulin effectively. This leads to higher insulin levels in the blood, which can contribute to increased androgen production by the ovaries.
  • Genetics: There appears to be a genetic component to PCOS. If your mother, sister, or aunt has PCOS, you may be at a higher risk of developing the condition.
  • Inflammation: Chronic low-grade inflammation in the body may play a role in PCOS. Inflammation can increase insulin resistance and contribute to hormonal imbalances.
  • Lifestyle Factors: Poor diet, sedentary lifestyle, and obesity are associated with an increased risk of developing PCOS. Excess weight can exacerbate insulin resistance and hormonal imbalances.

It’s important to note that PCOS is a complex condition and can vary from person to person. The exact combination of factors that contribute to PCOS may differ among individuals.

It’s also worth mentioning that while PCOS primarily affects women of reproductive age, it can manifest differently in each person. Some women may have more pronounced symptoms, while others may have milder or fewer symptoms. If you suspect you may have PCOS, it is recommended to consult with a healthcare professional for a proper diagnosis and appropriate management.

When to See a Doctor?

It is advisable to see a doctor if you experience any signs or symptoms that may indicate the presence of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). Here are some situations when you should consider seeking medical attention:

  • Irregular or Absent Menstrual Periods: If you notice significant changes in your menstrual cycle, such as irregular periods or prolonged periods of absence (amenorrhea), it is recommended to consult a healthcare professional.
  • Signs of Excessive Hair Growth: If you observe excessive hair growth on your face, chest, back, or other areas of the body (hirsutism), it is advisable to see a doctor. They can evaluate the underlying cause and determine if PCOS is a contributing factor.
  • Difficulty Getting Pregnant: If you have been trying to conceive for a while without success, PCOS could be a potential factor affecting your fertility. Consulting a doctor who specializes in reproductive health can help identify any underlying issues.
  • Persistent Acne or Skin Problems: If you have persistent acne breakouts, oily skin, or other skin issues that do not improve with standard treatments, it may be beneficial to seek medical advice.
  • Unexplained Weight Gain or Difficulty Losing Weight: If you have experienced unexplained weight gain or find it challenging to lose weight despite efforts, it could be related to hormonal imbalances associated with PCOS.
  • Mood Changes or Emotional Distress: PCOS can have an impact on emotional well-being, causing mood swings, depression, or anxiety. If you notice significant changes in your mood or emotional state, it is worth discussing with a healthcare professional.
  • Other Symptoms: If you have other symptoms that concern you and align with common signs of PCOS, such as hair loss, darkening of the skin, or pelvic pain, it is advisable to consult a doctor.

Remember, only a healthcare professional can diagnose PCOS based on a thorough evaluation of your symptoms, medical history, physical examination, and possibly some laboratory tests. Early diagnosis and appropriate management can help mitigate symptoms, reduce long-term complications, and improve overall well-being.


Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) can be associated with several complications, both in the short term and the long term. It is important to manage PCOS effectively to minimize the risks and complications associated with the condition. Here are some potential complications of PCOS:

  • Infertility: PCOS is one of the leading causes of female infertility. Hormonal imbalances and irregular ovulation can make it difficult for women with PCOS to conceive.
  • Gestational Diabetes: Pregnant women with PCOS have a higher risk of developing gestational diabetes, a condition characterized by high blood sugar levels during pregnancy. This can pose risks to both the mother and the baby.
  • Pregnancy Complications: Women with PCOS may be at a higher risk of pregnancy complications such as pre-eclampsia, gestational hypertension, premature birth, and miscarriage.
  • Metabolic Syndrome and Type 2 Diabetes: PCOS is often associated with insulin resistance, which can increase the risk of developing metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes. Metabolic syndrome is a cluster of conditions including high blood pressure, high blood sugar levels, abnormal cholesterol levels, and excess abdominal fat.
  • Cardiovascular Disease: Women with PCOS have a higher risk of developing cardiovascular diseases such as high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke. This risk is further increased by factors like obesity, insulin resistance, and high cholesterol levels.
  • Endometrial Cancer: Long-term exposure to high levels of estrogen due to infrequent or absent ovulation in PCOS can lead to the thickening of the lining of the uterus (endometrium), increasing the risk of endometrial cancer.
  • Psychological Effects: PCOS can have a significant impact on a woman’s emotional well-being. Women with PCOS may be at a higher risk of depression, anxiety, and eating disorders.

It’s important to note that not all women with PCOS will experience these complications, and the severity of the complications can vary from person to person. However, it’s crucial to manage PCOS effectively through lifestyle changes, medication, and regular medical care to reduce the risks and improve overall health outcomes. If you have PCOS, it’s recommended to work closely with your healthcare provider to address any potential complications and develop an appropriate management plan.


Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a problem with hormones that happens during the reproductive years. If you have PCOS, you may not have periods very often. Or you may have periods that last many days. You may also have too much of a hormone called androgen in your body.

The exact cause of PCOS is unknown. Early diagnosis and treatment along with weight loss may lower the risk of long-term complications such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease. It is a chronic condition that requires ongoing management and care.

It’s important to work closely with a healthcare professional experienced in treating PCOS to develop an individualized management plan that addresses your specific symptoms and concerns. By effectively managing PCOS, you can improve your overall health, reduce complications, and enhance your quality of life.