Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a common disorder in which a girl’s ovaries produce excessive amounts of male hormones (known as androgens). This hormonal imbalance can cause irregular periods, acne and unwanted hair growth. Tiny cysts or bumps may also form inside the ovaries.

Symptoms of PCOS often begin to appear during teenage years. Preadolescent girls who have their first period before the age of 13 are at increased risk of developing the disorder.

The condition affects an estimated 1 out of every 10 young women.

It is sometimes referred to as hyperandrogenic chronic anovulation (HCA).

Patients can be seen by Texas Children's experts in Adolescent Medicine and Pediatric and Adolescent Gynecology.

Causes & Risk Factors

The cause is not yet known. A combination of increased levels of male hormones (androgens), an irregular menstrual cycle, and resistance to insulin may be related to polycystic ovary syndrome.

Girls with polycystic ovary syndrome are at increased risk of developing other serious health conditions, including:

  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Endometrial hyperplasia (over-thickening of the lining of the uterus)
  • Endometrial cancer 

Symptoms & Types

Symptoms may include:

  • Irregular menstrual periods
  • Hirsutism (excess hair growth on the face, chest, abdomen or upper thighs)
  • Obesity
  • Oily skin/acne
  • Multiple small cysts on the ovaries
  • Patches of darker, thick, velvety skin in body folds and creases
  • Enlarged thyroid gland
  • Infertility

Diagnosis & Tests

Diagnosis starts with a detailed medical history and a physical exam, including a pelvic exam.

Diagnostic testing may also include:

  • Blood tests to evaluate hormone levels
  • An ultrasound to view the ovaries and look for tiny cysts

Treatment & Care

Treatment depends on the individual patient, the severity of symptoms and disease, and whether the girl wants to become pregnant in the future.

Treatment strategies include:

  • Oral contraceptive pills – Combination oral contraceptive pills (those including both estrogen and progestin) may help regulate the menstrual cycle, improve acne and reduce hirsutism (excess hair growth) by lowering androgen levels. They may also decrease the risk of endometrial cancer.
  • Weight loss – Even weight loss of 10 to 15 pounds can help make menstrual periods more regular, improve insulin levels, and relieve symptoms of hirsutism and acne.
  • Insulin-sensitizing drugs – to help regulate menstrual periods.