Polycystic ovaries are common; about one in ten women develop what is called polycystic ovary syndrome. PCOS is also sometimes called Ovarian Androgen Excess, as the ovaries start producing male hormones in slightly increased amounts.

Polycystic simply means that there are multiple cysts on the ovaries. These cysts are tiny fluid filled sacs on the ovary, each about four millimetres across. Their correct name is follicles and if they grow under the influence of the correct hormones one of them will become particularly large and contain the egg. At the middle of the month this follicle bursts releasing the egg. In the majority of women, polycystic ovaries only lead to minor problems associated with their periods. However, about a quarter of women with polycystic ovaries may have problems which can range from minor to very severe. The most common symptoms are inappropriate or excessive hair growth, acne and greasy skin; being considerably overweight; absent or very irregular periods and infertility.

We recommend the RCOG patient information leaflet for the most up-to-date and detailed information.