Causes & Symptoms of PCOS

Saschan Fearon  |  23rd Feb 2019

Like many disorders related to your reproductive well-being symptoms of PCOS often begin gradually and can often be confused for other medical problems.

A diagnosis of Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) is not the same as being told you have Polycystic Ovaries (PCO). So what’s the difference?


Polycystic ovaries occur when your ovaries contain a large number of partially matured follicles and become enlarged. Polycystic ovaries are a normal occurrence and a common part of the reproductive cycle for many women and people who ovulate.  Research from Betterhealth indicates that as many as 1/3 of people of child bearing age who ovulate may have visible PCO during an ultrasound but not have the syndrome.


Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome is a complex metabolic and endocrine disorder which can result in polycystic ovaries but this isn’t always the case. Although they sound similar the treatment options and diagnosis are extremely different and so are the long term implications.

Early Signs You May Have PCOS

Irregular Periods Not sure wether your period is coming in 4 weeks or 4 months? One of the most common signs of PCOS is an extremely irregular menstrual cycle. If you have fewer than 9 periods (menstrual cycles) over 12 months or perhaps no periods at all this could be an early sign as nearly 1/2 of all women with PCOS notice infrequent ovulation. You may also find that when your periods do arrive they are heavier, longer and more painful than normal. Excess Hair (Hirsutism) Did your eyebrow lady ask you if you also want your tache done aswell? A significant number of people with PCOS experience excess hair growth which often presents as facial hair (moustache/ beard) and can become increasingly darker and thicker over time. Excess hair on arms, legs, abdomen, nipples, chest, back, toes and in your pubic area can also occur. Excess hair growth is a result of the high levels of androgens (male hormones) present in people with PCOS or an increased sensitivity to these hormones. PCOS isn’t the only reason you might have excess hair growth but hirsutism it is a symptom found in upto 70% of people with PCOS. Skin Problems Acne, oily skin and scalp conditions such as dandruff are often a result of the increased levels of testosterone found in people with PCOS.  Acne associated with PCOS is usually present on the face especially along the jaw line. Studies show that nearly 27% of people with acne have a diagnosis of PCOS.  Acne is caused by the increased levels of testosterone which triggers the sebaceous glands to produce excess oil clogging pores.

Other Symptoms of PCOS

Some symptoms of PCOS will develop slowly over time and you might not immediately associate them with PCOS or they could be misdiagnosed. Mood Swings Happy one minute and throwing flat pack furniture the next? Mood swings are a common symptom in PCOS and can be triggered by the hormonal imbalance which is a defining feature of the condition. Everybody will have differing hormone levels which fluctuate as you move through different parts of your cycle. . Feeling anxious, changes to appetite, depression and PMS type symptoms are frequently found in people diagnosed with PCOS. Insulin Resistance Insulin is the hormone which helps the body store glucose (sugar molecules) after we eat. Frequent urination, excessive thirst,  skin tags and upper body weight gain can often be signs of insulin resistance. Roughly 30% of people diagnosed with PCOS are insulin resistant with 7 – 10% having type 2 diabetes. Sleep Apnoea  Just woke up and ready to go back to bed already? That could just be a result of a few too many late nights but that doesn’t mean you have PCOS. Around 30% of people with PCOS who are overweight experience sleep apnoea a disorder which presents as excessive snoring at night with brief periods where they stop breathing entirely. This can cause fatigue during the day due to having inconsistent quality rest and a disturbed sleep pattern. Fertility Problems If you’re not experiencing regular periods and ovulation you could struggle to get pregnant this doesn’t automatically mean you’re infertile and it’s important to know that many people with PCOS successfully conceive although this can be more difficult especially if you are over 35.