Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)

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Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a common condition that causes changes in hormone levels. It can lead to a range of concerns, from acne, weight gain, and abnormal hair growth to irregular periods, ovarian cysts, and difficulty getting pregnant. Because PCOS can impact people in many ways, it’s important to be seen by a provider to confirm a diagnosis and determine the best kind of therapy. By coordinating care with endocrinologists, dermatologists, and your gynecologist, your team of Duke specialists can tailor care to your needs for the most effective outcomes.

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Who Is at Risk for Polycystic Ovary Syndrome?

Polycystic ovary syndrome most often develops between puberty and menopause. People with a family history of PCOS may be more likely to have the disorder. Because some symptoms can mimic common issues women face throughout their lives, it’s important to talk to your provider when changes to your body occur so they can determine if PCOS is the cause.

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Duke Health offers testing and treatment for PCOS at two locations in Durham and one in Raleigh. Find an option near you.

Tests for Polycystic Ovary Syndrome

Your family health history and physical and pelvic exams will help your doctors make an accurate diagnosis. Because PCOS can produce symptoms that impact many areas of your life, you’ll work with a team of specialists that may include experts in endocrinology, fertility, dermatology, and nutrition. Our providers may request the following tests to confirm whether you have PCOS.

Blood Tests

Women with polycystic ovary syndrome have high levels of androgens, a hormone that naturally exists in women but in lower amounts than men. A blood test can show changes in hormone levels and also helps rule out other disorders such as thyroid disease or pituitary disorders. Blood tests will also show if your body is changing the way it reacts to insulin, which can also be a sign of PCOS.

Pelvic Ultrasound

A pelvic ultrasound uses a vaginal ultrasound probe to evaluate your uterus, fallopian tubes, and ovaries. This test is the best way to see if your ovary follicles have been impacted by polycystic ovary syndrome, because PCOS can change their size and ability to create estrogen and progesterone.

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Treatments for Polycystic Ovary Syndrome

Early treatment of PCOS may prevent complications that can affect your skin, weight, or ability to get pregnant. Because women with PCOS are at higher risk for diabetes and other metabolic problems such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, your provider may recommend lifestyle changes as well as medications to treat PCOS.

Diet and Exercise

A low glycemic diet restricts carbohydrates and manages insulin resistance, weight, and changes in hormone levels. A nutritionist can help you make dietary changes such as eating more vegetables, lean protein, fruit, and nuts. Making these adjustments along with regular exercise can improve how you look and feel. It can also help improve irregularities in your menstrual cycle.

Maintaining a healthy weight is particularly beneficial if you’re trying to get pregnant. Women don’t become infertile because of PCOS, but infrequent periods can make getting pregnant more difficult.


Your provider may recommend medication to balance your hormones. This can be helpful if excess testosterone causes hair loss on your head and hair growth on your face, chest, back, or stomach. Medication can also treat ovarian cysts, decrease acne, and regulate your menstrual cycle. Our goal is to get your body back to its normal rhythm.

Consistently Ranked Among the Nation’s Best Hospitals

Duke University Hospital is proud of our team and the exceptional care they provide. They are why we are once again recognized as the best hospital in North Carolina, and nationally ranked in 11 adult and 9 pediatric specialties by U.S. News & World Report for 2023–2024.

Skin and Hair Conditions Related to PCOS

Polycystic ovary syndrome can change hormone levels (known as hyperandrogenism) and cause common hair disorders like unwanted growth on your body or unexpected loss. These are normal side effects that can be treated in collaboration between our endocrinologists and experts in dermatology, who specialize in treating skin and hair conditions related to PCOS. If you’re impacted by female pattern hair loss, excess hair on your face, chest, or back (hirsutism), acne, or other skin conditions, we can recommend medications or treatments to minimize these changes and make you feel more comfortable.

This page was medically reviewed on 10/28/2021 by