What Is PCOS?

Polycystic ovary syndrome, or PCOS, is a hormonal condition. In women who have it, it can affect your ability to have a child (fertility). It can also:

There are treatments for the symptoms, and if you want to get pregnant, that’s still possible, though you may need to try different methods.

Many women who have PCOS don’t have cysts on their ovaries, so “polycystic” can be misleading. You might have cysts, and you might not.

Hormones and PCOS

With PCOS, your reproductive hormones are out of balance. This can lead to problems with your ovaries, such as not having your period on time, or missing it entirely.

Hormones are substances your body makes to help different processes happen. Some are related to your ability to have a baby, and also affect your menstrual cycle. Those that are involved in PCOS include.

  • Androgens: Often called “male” hormones, women have them, too. Those with PCOS tend to have higher levels, which can cause symptoms like hair loss, hair in places you don’t want it (such as on your face), and trouble getting pregnant.
  • Insulin: This hormone manages your blood sugar. If you have PCOS, your body might not react to insulin the way that it should.
  • Progesterone: With PCOS, your body may not have enough of this hormone. That can make you to miss your periods for a long time, or to have periods that are hard to predict.


Doctors don’t know all of the reasons why some women get PCOS.

You might be more likely to have PCOS if your sister or mother also has it. It could also be related to problems that make your body produce too much insulin, which can affect your ovaries and their ability to ovulate (release eggs).

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Kecia Gaither, MD, MPH on March 25, 2019



Women’s Health.gov: Office on Women’s Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, “Polycystic Ovary Syndrome.”

Mayo Clinic: Diseases and Conditions, “Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS).”

Hormone Health Network, “Polycystic Ovary Syndrome.”

PCOS Awareness Association: “PCOS.”

UCLA Health: “Polycystic Ovary Syndrome.”

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