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Polycystic ovary syndrome - How do doctors diagnose polycystic ovary syndrome?

BMJ Group Medical Reference

It often takes a long time to get diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). Many women aren't diagnosed until they are in their 30s. This is partly because there are so many different symptoms.

Many women have only one or two of the symptoms of PCOS.[20] This can make it hard for doctors to spot the condition. Also, many women don't go to the doctor until they've had symptoms for quite a long time. You might not be worried about irregular periods, for example, until you start trying to get pregnant.

There's no single test or symptom that shows you have PCOS. Doctors look to see if you have two of the three main symptoms of PCOS.[21] These are:

  • Your ovaries don't release eggs, or don't release them regularly. Your doctor will check this by asking about how often you have periods

  • You have high amounts of hormones called androgens. Signs that you have high levels of these hormones include unwanted hair or spots (acne). Or your doctor can do blood tests to find out the amount of androgens in your body

  • Your ovaries are covered in small, fluid-filled swellings (cysts). It's possible to check for cysts using an ultrasound. But not all women will need this test.

Your doctor will also do tests to rule out anything else that could be causing your symptoms.[21] You're most likely to need blood tests.

Here are some things your doctor may do to find out if you have polycystic ovary syndrome.

Questions your doctor may ask

Your doctor will want to know about the symptoms you are having, when you first noticed them, and whether they have changed over time. He or she will want to know:[22]

  • When your periods started

  • How often you have periods

  • Whether you've ever had regular periods

  • What your periods are like, if you get them. For example, are they heavy?

This will help your doctor work out whether PCOS is the cause of your problems. Most women with PCOS started their periods around the usual time (about 11 to 16 years of age) but have never had regular periods.

Women with PCOS often have trouble getting pregnant, and are more likely to have a miscarriage early in their pregnancy.[23] So, your doctor will ask:

  • Whether you have ever been pregnant, or tried to get pregnant

  • Whether you've ever had a miscarriage.

Lots of medicines can affect your hormones. These may give you some of the same symptoms as PCOS. So your doctor will want to check what medicines you're taking.

Women with PCOS often take great care to hide symptoms like hair on their faces, spots, or hair loss. For example, you may shave or wax unwanted hair. So your doctor will ask:

  • Whether you've had any of these symptoms

  • When you started getting them, and how quickly they came on

  • Whether anything seems to make them better or worse.

Finally, PCOS seems to run in families. So your doctor will ask whether anyone in your family has had PCOS. And because PCOS is linked to blood sugar and insulin levels, he or she will also ask whether anyone in your family has had diabetes.

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Last Updated: August 13, 2013
This information does not replace medical advice.  If you are concerned you might have a medical problem please ask your Boots pharmacy team in your local Boots store, or see your doctor.
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