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PCOS, also known as polycystic ovarian syndrome, is the most common cause of female infertility. It occurs when immature follicles from the ovaries bunch together to form large cysts or lumps. Since the follicles don't break open to release eggs, women with this condition generally don't ovulate, making it difficult to become pregnant. Other symptoms include weight gain and increased hair growth.

What Is PCOS?

PCOS, also known as polycystic ovarian syndrome, is a health problem that can affect a woman's:
  • Menstrual cycle
  • Fertility
  • Hormones
  • Insulin production
  • Heart
  • Blood vessels
  • Appearance.
Women with PCOS have these characteristics:
  • High levels of male hormones, also called androgens.
  • An irregular or no menstrual cycle.
  • May or may not have many small cysts in their ovaries. Cysts are fluid-filled sacs.
PCOS is the most common cause of female infertility. An estimated 5 percent to 10 percent of women of childbearing age in the United States have this condition.

The Basics of PCOS

A woman's ovaries have follicles, which are tiny, fluid-filled sacs that hold the eggs. When an egg is mature, the follicle breaks open to release the egg so it can travel to the uterus for fertilization.
In women with PCOS, immature follicles bunch together to form large cysts or lumps. The eggs mature within the bunched follicles, but the follicles don't break open to release them. As a result, women with PCOS often don't have menstrual periods, or they only have periods now and then. Because the eggs are not released, most women with PCOS have trouble getting pregnant.
Women with this condition may also have other health problems, such as abnormally high levels of insulin, obesity, high blood pressure, and heart disease. A small number of these women will also gain weight and notice an increase in their hair growth.
Written by/reviewed by:
Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
Last updated/reviewed:
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