Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a set of symptoms due to elevated androgens (male hormones) in women. Signs and symptoms of PCOS include irregular or no menstrual periods, heavy periods, excess body and facial hair, acne, pelvic pain, difficulty getting pregnant, and patches of thick, darker, velvety skin.Associated conditions include type 2 diabetes, obesity, obstructive sleep apnea, heart disease, mood disorders, and endometrial cancer.

Common signs and symptoms of PCOS include the following:

  • Menstrual disorders: PCOS mostly produces oligomenorrhea (few menstrual periods) or amenorrhea (no menstrual periods), but other types of menstrual disorders may also occur.
  • Infertility:This generally results directly from chronic anovulation (lack of ovulation).
  • High levels of masculinizing hormones: The most common signs are acne and hirsutism (male pattern of hair growth), but it may produce hypermenorrhea (heavy and prolonged menstrual periods), androgenic alopecia (increase hair thinning or diffuse hair loss), or other symptoms. Approximately three-quarters of women with PCOS (by the diagnostic criteria of NIH/NICHD 1990) have evidence of hyperandrogenemia.
  • Metabolic syndrome:This appears as a tendency towards central obesity and other symptoms associated with insulin resistance. Serum insulin, insulin resistance, and homocysteine levels are higher in women with PCOS.

Standard diagnostic assessments

  • History-taking, specifically for menstrual pattern, obesity, hirsutism and acne. A clinical prediction rule found that these four questions can diagnose PCOS with a sensitivity of 77.1% (95% confidence interval [CI] 62.7%–88.0%) and a specificity of 93.8% (95% CI 82.8%–98.7%).[42]
  • Gynecologic ultrasonography, specifically looking for small ovarian follicles. These are believed to be the result of disturbed ovarian function with failed ovulation, reflected by the infrequent or absent menstruation that is typical of the condition. In a normal menstrual cycle, one egg is released from a dominant follicle – in essence, a cyst that bursts to release the egg. After ovulation, the follicle remnant is transformed into a progesterone-producing corpus luteum, which shrinks and disappears after approximately 12–14 days. In PCOS, there is a so-called “follicular arrest”; i.e., several follicles develop to a size of 5–7 mm, but not further. No single follicle reaches the preovulatory size (16 mm or more). According to the Rotterdam criteria, 12 or more small follicles should be seen in an ovary on ultrasound examination. More recent research suggests that there should be at least 25 follicles in an ovary to designate it as having polycystic ovarian morphology (PCOM) in women aged 18–35 years. The follicles may be oriented in the periphery, giving the appearance of a ‘string of pearls’.If a high resolution transvaginal ultrasonography machine is not available, an ovarian volume of at least 10 ml is regarded as an acceptable definition of having polycystic ovarian morphology instead of follicle count.
  • Laparoscopic examination may reveal a thickened, smooth, pearl-white outer surface of the ovary. (This would usually be an incidental finding if laparoscopy were performed for some other reason, as it would not be routine to examine the ovaries in this way to confirm a diagnosis of PCOS.)[citation needed]
  • Serum (blood) levels of androgens (hormones associated with male development), including androstenedione and testosterone may be elevated. Dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate levels above 700-800 µg/dL are highly suggestive of adrenal dysfunction because DHEA-S is made exclusively by the adrenal glands.The free testosterone level is thought to be the best measure, with ~60% of PCOS patients demonstrating supranormal levels. The Free androgen index (FAI) of the ratio of testosterone to sex hormone-binding globulin (SHBG) is high and is meant to be a predictor of free testosterone, but is a poor parameter for this and is no better than testosterone alone as a marker for PCOS, possibly because FAI is correlated with the degree of obesity.

Some other blood tests are suggestive but not diagnostic. The ratio of LH (Luteinizing hormone) to FSH (Follicle-stimulating hormone), when measured in international units, is elevated in women with PCOS. Common cut-offs to designate abnormally high LH/FSH ratios are 2:1 or 3:1 as tested on Day 3 of the menstrual cycle. The pattern is not very sensitive; a ratio of 2:1 or higher was present in less than 50% of women with PCOS in one study. There are often low levels of sex hormone-binding globulin, in particular among obese or overweight women.[citation needed]

Anti-Müllerian hormone (AMH) is increased in PCOS, and may become part of its diagnostic criteria.

Associated conditions

  • Fasting biochemical screen and lipid profile
  • 2-Hour oral glucose tolerance test (GTT) in women with risk factors (obesity, family history, history of gestational diabetes) may indicate impaired glucose tolerance (insulin resistance) in 15–33% of women with PCOS. Frank diabetes can be seen in 65–68% of women with this condition.[citation needed] Insulin resistance can be observed in both normal weight and overweight people, although it is more common in the latter (and in those matching the stricter NIH criteria for diagnosis); 50–80% of people with PCOS may have insulin resistance at some level.
  • Fasting insulin level or GTT with insulin levels (also called IGTT). Elevated insulin levels have been helpful to predict response to medication and may indicate women needing higher dosages of metformin or the use of a second medication to significantly lower insulin levels. Elevated blood sugar and insulin values do not predict who responds to an insulin-lowering medication, low-glycemic diet, and exercise. Many women with normal levels may benefit from combination therapy. A hypoglycemic response in which the two-hour insulin level is higher and the blood sugar lower than fasting is consistent with insulin resistance. A mathematical derivation known as the HOMAI, calculated from the fasting values in glucose and insulin concentrations, allows a direct and moderately accurate measure of insulin sensitivity (glucose-level x insulin-level/22.5).[citation needed]
  • Glucose tolerance testing (GTT) instead of fasting glucose can increase diagnosis of impaired glucose tolerance and frank diabetes among people with PCOS according to a prospective controlled trial.[53] While fasting glucose levels may remain within normal limits, oral glucose tests revealed that up to 38% of asymptomatic women with PCOS (versus 8.5% in the general population) actually had impaired glucose tolerance, 7.5% of those with frank diabetes according to ADA guidelines