Ovarian Cysts Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome Pcos Diagnosis

Polycystic ovarian syndrome affects 10 percent of women in the United States. PCOS symptoms vary in severity, and can include:

  • Acne
  • Increased risk of cancer and infertility
  • Weight gain.

Because polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) is one of the leading causes of infertility in women, those who experience any PCOS symptoms should consult a physician. Your doctor may confirm a proper diagnosis of PCOS and begin your treatment immediately. A diagnosis of PCOS is a complex procedure that requires a comprehensive history of possible PCOS symptoms and diagnostic tests to rule out other health conditions.

Keep in mind that PCOS and the presence of polycystic ovaries (enlarged ovaries that have a number of small cysts present on the ovarian follicles) are not necessarily related. While women who suffer from PCOS may have polycystic ovaries, women can also suffer from polycystic ovarian syndrome without their ovaries being polycystic. Similarly, others can have polycystic ovaries without necessarily suffering from PCOS symptoms.

PCOS and Diagnosis

Currently, there isn’t a set method for a diagnosis of PCOS. While a variety of tests may be used in the diagnostic process, doctors are continuously debating which is most effective. As a result, the medical community officially characterizes polycystic ovarian syndrome as a syndrome and not a disease.

Pelvic ultrasound (also known as an ultrasonography) provides gynecologists with images of a woman’s abdominal organs. The ovaries are visualized, and the images may be used in the interpretation of PCOS. An ultrasonography renders a visual image of internal structures that can help doctors identify the presence of other health problems, such as:

  • Cysts
  • Structural anomalies
  • Various other lesions.

However, a pelvic ultrasound alone isn’t sufficient for an official diagnosis of PCOS, so doctors use other tests as well, including:

  • A fasting biochemical screen that diagnoses insulin resistance, a factor associated with the presence of PCOS
  • Hormonal tests that evaluate the levels of testosterone, LH, FHS and SHBG hormones that a woman has in her body (while high levels of LH, FHS and testosterone indicate PCOS, low levels of SHBG are associated with this condition).

Other Problems Associated with Diagnosing PCOS

Further complicating the diagnosis of PCOS, doctors have to rule out the possibility that general ovarian cyst symptoms aren’t the result of some other disorder. Conditions that can complicate a diagnosis of PCOS include:

  • Congenital adrenal hyperplasia, a disorder marked by an excess or deficiency in sex hormones, thereby disrupting proper developments of sex organs
  • Hyperprolactinaemia, a condition marked by high amounts of the hormone prolactin, which is responsible for lactation
  • Hypothyroidism, a disorder characterized by an under active thyroid that can’t properly regulate the body’s hormone concentrations.
  • Ovarian cancer.

Ovarian Cancer Symptoms

Diagnosis of PCOS must rule out the possibility that PCOS symptoms are not actually ovarian cancer symptoms. Many ovarian cancer and ovarian cyst symptoms are general symptoms that could apply to many health conditions. Obesity and facial hair are such symptoms. Blood tests that reveal elevated androgen hormones could point to either a diagnosis of PCOS or ovarian cancer. A doctor may recommend a biopsy of ovarian tissue if your symptoms point to ovarian cancer.


Health Communities Staff. (n.d.). Ovarian cancer. Retrieved February 15, 2010, from the Health Communities Web site: http://www.womenshealthchannel.com/ovariancancer/index.shtml.

Khan, M. (2009). Polycystic ovarian syndrome: Differential diagnoses and workup. Retrieved February 15, 2010, from the eMedicine Web site: http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/256806-diagnosis.

Mayo Clinic Staff. (n.d.). Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). Retrieved February 15, 2010, from the Mayo Clinic Web site: http://www.mayoclinic.org/pcos/diagnosis.html.

Stöppler, M. (n.d.). Polycystic ovary: How is PCOS diagnosed? Retrieved February 15, 2010, from the MedicineNet.com Web site: http://www.medicinenet.com/polycystic_ovary/page2.htm.