What is PCOS?

Polycystic Ovary Syndrome is a syndrome where the normal menstrual cycle is disrupted. This means you may experience irregular periods, or skip some without being pregnant. Around 10% of women have PCOS, and it is the most common endocrine disorder in pre-menopausal women.

The most common PCOS symptoms are;

  • 9 or less periods in a year
  • Hyperandrogenism (too much androgen production; often presents with excess hair growth, acne and balding)
  • Polycystic ovaries (multiple cysts on the ovaries themselves)

PCOS can be seen to run in families; however, it is not quite as simple as the condition being inherited.

What Causes PCOS?

Unlike other medical conditions, syndromes are tricky to diagnose. This is because they do not have a set cause; there is no virus or injury that causes them, rather they are the result of interactions between body systems. As such, diagnosis is made by checking the symptoms, rather than searching for a root problem.

You may present to a doctor with irregular periods – however, if your weight has been fluctuating, that may be the cause. Only when no cause is evident, and the symptoms match up with those of a specific syndrome, will a doctor be able to diagnose.

While PCOS has no direct cause, there are some risk factors which might make you more likely to have it. One main risk factor for PCOS is obesity. This is due to a complex series of interactions, but we can try to break them down.

Many obese people experience insulin resistance, where your body does not receive the correct hormonal signals from your digestive system. This can lead to higher blood sugar levels, and other health problems. This resistance can also affect the binding of sex hormones, hence having higher levels of testosterone in your body (hyperandrogenism). 

In turn, obesity can lead to an unhealthy relationship with food, where you are not eating enough of the nutrients your body requires. This means that when you do have your period, your body isn’t getting the correct nutrition, and can make them harder on your system. This can lead to irregularities, as your body cannot perform its normal functions.

Other risk factors can include metabolic syndrome (present in 47% of PCOS cases), as well as increased rates of cardiovascular diseases (heart disease), anxiety and depression. People with PCOS are also around three times more likely to be diagnosed with endometrial cancer, as a result of improper binding of hormones during missed periods.

PCOS Treatment Options

One possible avenue to reduce the symptoms of PCOS is diet. Working alongside a dietitian and a multi-disciplinary team, you can learn about your condition, and view ways to change your behaviours that can help reduce symptoms.

A dietitian can go through some dietary education with you. This allows you to be aware of the required nutrients for your body, where to find them and quick and easy ways to add more of them to your diet. They can teach the difference between unhealthy saturated fats and healthy fats, and how to repair your relationship with food.

Between handling overeating triggers, managing your cravings and controlling your hormone levels through your diet, you should be able to lose weight. This should help reduce your PCOS symptoms as a result.

Weight loss is only part of the solution, however. There are also medications available which can help reduce the severity of your symptoms. The contraceptive pill can be used to help regulate your periods, preventing your body from skipping them.

Metformin, a treatment for type 2 diabetes, can also be used to help lower insulin levels in people with PCOS.


  • PCOS is a syndrome that affects your menstrual cycle
  • PCOS symptoms can be worsened by obesity, and in turn can be reduced by losing weight
  • A dietitian can help you lose weight and take control of your relationship with food, which can make handling your symptoms easier.

Useful Links

Polycystic Ovary Syndrome – NHS