POLYCYSTIC OVARY SYNDROME (PCOS) FACT SHEET
Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS), the most common metabolic disorder of reproductive-age women
in the United States, is generally known as a reproductive disorder but is also associated with life-
threatening medical illnesses. In the U.S., six million reproductive-age women are affected with the
syndrome. PCOS is generally considered a syndrome rather than a disease because it manifests itself
through a group of signs and symptoms that can occur in any combination, rather than having one known
cause or presentation.
PCOS can include some of the following symptoms:
• Infertility • Elevated insulin levels
• Acne • Irregular or absent menstrual cycles
• Abnormal excess body hair • Increased production of testosterone from
• Scalp hair loss
• Excess hair on the face and body
• Ovarian cysts
• Overweight or obese
• High blood pressure
If a woman has two or more of these symptoms, she should see an endocrinologist for an accurate
diagnosis and treatment of symptoms. Treatment of the symptoms of PCOS can help reduce risks of
future health problems.
• Affects an estimated 10% of all women and most don't even know they have it.
• Is treatable, but not curable, by medications, changes in diet and exercise.
• Is the leading cause of infertility in women.
• PCOS is generally considered a syndrome rather than a disease (though it is sometimes called
Polycystic Ovary Disease) because it manifests itself through a group of signs and symptoms that can
occur in any combination, rather than having one known cause or presentation.
• There is no cure for PCOS. It is a condition that is managed, rather than cured.
• Affects far more than just reproduction.
• At this time, there is no single definitive test for PCOS. The AACE Position Statement on PCOS lists
the tests generally recommended by experts on this condition.
• PCOS is associated with increased risk for endometrial hyperplasia, endometrial cancer, insulin
resistance, type II diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and heart disease.
• PCOS IS NOT just a cosmetic problem.
• Infertility in this condition is caused by hormonal changes and poor ovulation as well as recurrent
miscarriages and complications of pregnancy.
PCOS risk factors for cardiovascular and metabolic disease:
Insulin Resistance Syndrome (IRS)
• IRS is the inability of insulin to function normally in reducing blood sugar levels.
• New research indicates that many women with PCOS have a number of features of IRS, which may
put them at great risk for type 2 diabetes mellitus and cardiovascular disease (strokes and coronary
• Weight is often distributed in an apple shaped (central) distribution of fat.
• LDL (bad) cholesterol levels increase and HDL (good) cholesterol levels decrease.
• Thirty to forty percent of women with PCOS, particularly those who are obese and have a family
history of type 2 diabetes, may develop diabetes and its complications at a relatively young age.
• Studies have shown that 25-50 % of patients with diabetes between the ages of 20-50 have PCOS.
• Seventy-five percent of women with PCOS are unable to respond to insulin and the presence of higher
levels of insulin leads to further body responses.
• Women with PCOS have a three-fold or more increased distinctive diagnosis of type 2 diabetes
mellitus compared to non-PCOS women.
• Triglycerides blood level increase.
• Hypertension occurs particularly after the age of forty.
• Women with PCOS are more prone to atherosclerosis at an early age.
• There is a significantly increased presence of coronary calcifications in women with PCOS and a
thickened lining of the lining of carotid arteries, both of which strongly suggest a higher risk for later
cardiovascular events (strokes & coronary events).
• Two recent studies of women with PCOS demonstrate a 50% increase in coronary events compared to
Commonly Asked Questions about PCOS
Is PCOS life-threatening?
PCOS can be associated with a number of serious medical conditions. PCOS is frequently associated
with decreased sensitivity to insulin (i.e., insulin resistance), which in turn may lead to an increased risk
of adult on-set diabetes mellitus and cardiovascular disease. PCOS can also be associated with uterine
How many women are affected by PCOS?
It is estimated that up to ten percent of women may have PCOS.
How is PCOS diagnosed?
While many physicians diagnose a woman with PCOS based on the symptoms listed above,
confirmation of the diagnosis requires obtaining blood samples for a variety of hormones, including
those produced by the ovaries, adrenal glands, pituitary gland and thyroid gland. A full physical
examination and screening for cholesterol, triglycerides, and glucose should also be part of a complete
Is PCOS a gynecological or an endocrine disorder?
PCOS is often considered a purely gynecological disorder since many PCOS symptoms involve a
woman’s reproductive system. It is, however, a systemic disorder involving hormones, sugar
metabolism, lipids and blood vessels.