PCOS Diagnosis & Causes

PCOS is a variable condition that affects women in different ways. Some women have only a few minor symptoms, whereas others may have severe symptoms in all categories. The presence of polycystic ovaries is one of the diagnostic criteria, but its presence is not essential. In other words, you could have PCOS without actually having polycystic ovaries.

If you think you have any typical symptoms of PCOS you should see your GP who will ask about your symptoms to try and rule out other causes and check your blood pressure. You may then be referred for an ultrasound scan to investigate whether you have a high number of cysts in your ovaries (polycystic ovaries). The cysts are under-developed sacs called follicles, in which eggs develop.

A blood test to measure your hormone levels and to screen for diabetes or a high cholesterol level may be performed.
Once other, rare, causes of your symptoms have been ruled out, a diagnosis of PCOS can usually be made if you have 2 or more out of the following 3 criteria:

  • irregular or infrequent periods – indicates your ovaries do not regularly ovulate
  • blood tests show high androgen levels (e.g. testosterone) or you just show the signs of excess male hormones but the blood test is normal
  • scans show you have polycystic ovaries

As only two of the above are needed to make a diagnosis, you will not necessarily have to have both an ultrasound scan and blood test before the condition can be confirmed.

Referral to a specialist

If you are diagnosed with PCOS, you will either be treated by your GP or referred to a specialist gynaecologist for the treatment of female fertility problems or an endocrinologist for treatment of a hormonal imbalance.

The doctor will discuss the best way to manage your symptoms. In most instances they will recommend lifestyle changes, and start you on any necessary medication.

Follow-up schedule for PCOS

Your age and weight will determine the follow-up procedure. Typically you will be offered annual appointments to check your blood pressure and screen for diabetes.