Identifying PCOS

PCOS can be a complex condition to identify because there are numerous symptoms, and you don’t have to have all of them to be diagnosed with PCOS. Very few women have the same set of symptoms, and the symptoms can change at different stages of your life.

The symptoms differ widely between women, but the three main areas they affect are:

  • fertility and reproductive health
  • metabolic health
  • psychological health.

Although there is no cure for PCOS, the good news is that PCOS is treatable. We know that our lifestyle (what we eat and how active we are) can worsen or improve the symptoms of PCOS. With support from your doctor and other health-care givers, there are many ways to manage your lifestyle and improve all aspects of PCOS.

Criteria for a diagnosis of PCOS

A diagnosis of PCOS can be made when at least two of the following three criteria are met:

1. Irregular periods or no periods

2. Higher levels of androgens are present in the blood (hyperandrogenism), shown by:

  • a blood test, OR
  • symptoms such as:
    • excess facial or body hair growth
    • scalp hair loss
    • acne.

3. Polycystic ovaries are visible on an ultrasound, meaning:

  • more than 20 follicles (partly developed eggs) are visible on one or both ovaries or
  • the size of one or both ovaries is increased (more than 10ml).

You do not need to have an ultrasound if you have criteria 1 and 2.

In women younger than 20 years, ultrasounds are not recommended. This means that irregular periods and hyperandrogenism need to be present for a diagnosis of PCOS to be made.

A number of other conditions that could cause similar symptoms of irregular periods or no periods need to be checked by your doctor and ruled out before a correct diagnosis of PCOS can be confirmed.