Many women have been told they have polycystic ovaries (PCO), but this does not necessarily mean they have polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).
PCO refers to having several cysts on the ovaries and is a variant of normal ovaries.
It is more prevalent with up to a third of women having polycystic ovaries and no other symptoms.
PCOS affects 12 to 18 per cent of women of reproductive age and is a metabolic disorder associated with an unbalanced hormone levels released by the woman’s ovaries.
The three main features of PCOS are:
Irregular periods – which means your ovaries do not regularly release eggs (ovulation)
Excess androgen – high levels of “male” hormones in your body, which may cause physical signs such as excess facial or body hair
Polycystic ovaries – your ovaries become enlarged and contain many fluid-filled sacs (follicles) that surround the eggs (but despite the name, you do not actually have cysts if you have PCOS). If you have at least two of these features, you may be diagnosed with PCOS.
Polycystic ovaries contain a large number of harmless follicles that are up to 8mm.
The follicles are underdeveloped sacs in which eggs develop. In PCOS, these sacs are often unable to release an egg, which means ovulation does not take place.
There’s no cure for PCOS, but the symptoms can be treated. Medications are available to treat symptoms such as excessive hair growth, irregular periods and fertility problems. For fertility, a simple surgical procedure called laparoscopic ovarian drilling (LOD) may be recommended.
With treatment, most women with PCOS are able to get pregnant.