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

BMJ Group Medical Reference


Physical examination

Your doctor will want to examine you without your clothes on to see which symptoms of PCOS you have.[22]

Although you can probably tell the doctor about most things, there may be some symptoms that you've missed. Also, it's hard to explain things like how much hair you have, exactly where it is, and what type of hair you have. If you are very self-conscious about the hair on your body, you may describe it as being worse than it really is. It's easier for the doctor to look and see, even though you may find this embarrassing.

Your doctor will be looking to see:[22]

  • How much hair you have on your face and body, where it is and what sort of hair it is

  • Whether you have spots (acne) on your face, shoulders, or back

  • Whether you have raised patches of velvety skin.

Many women with PCOS are overweight. So your doctor will also check your weight, and may measure your waist. That's because women with PCOS tend to carry extra weight around their abdomen, rather than on their hips.

Tests you may need

Doctors don't always agree about which tests you should have for PCOS. But you will almost certainly have some blood tests. These will look to see:[21]

  • If anything else is causing your symptoms, like problems with your thyroid gland or an over-active adrenal gland. These glands make hormones, so if they're not working properly they may be causing your symptoms

  • What levels of hormones you have in your blood. The tests will probably check for hormones called androgens, as well as follicle-stimulating hormone and oestradiol.

The hormone tests are to check whether your hormones are in the usual balance. But there are lots of different hormone tests and they're not all reliable. So your test may not show up any problems, even if you do have problems with your hormones.[21]

Some doctors will check the levels of sugar in your blood. That's because women with PCOS are more likely to get diabetes. Diabetes means your body has trouble controlling the amount of sugar in your blood.

You may have an ultrasound scan of your lower body, to check whether you have fluid-filled swellings (called cysts) on your ovaries. An ultrasound uses sound waves to form a picture of the inside of your body. Not all doctors think you need these scans. But if your other tests are normal and doctors aren't sure whether you have PCOS, you may have a scan.[21]

Lots of women get some cysts on their ovaries. These may not cause any problems. Doctors say you have polycystic ovaries if you have more than 12 cysts, and they're 2 millimetres to 9 millimetres (between about one-twelfth and one-third of an inch) across.[21]

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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