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Do you know the difference between Polycystic Ovaries and Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)?

We are sure these terms are familiar but equally due to their similarity it is easy to confuse them. Whilst the former is fairly common the latter  refers to a more serious pathology. We wanted to use our blog to clarify any questions you may have about Polycystic Ovaries and Polycystic Ovary Syndrome; how they differ and what treatments are appropriate for each. Our own Fertility specialist Dr. Elena Santiago will talk about each in turn. Keep reading!


What are Polycystic Ovaries?

Young women often have polycystic ovaries. The condition refers to those ovaries which have multiple antral follicles, or, better known as  “multifollicular ovaries”. In these cases, the ovaries maintain a large ovarian reserve without major consequences, although other cases may be related to hormonal disorders.

The polycystic ovary can be asymptomatic or alternatively be related in some cases with anovulatory cycles, and irregular periods or even amenorrhea that produce infertility as in PCOS. Normally it is closely related to a good ovarian reserve, and although it can also appear in fertile women of all ages, it is more common in younger women up to 30-35 years of age.

Having polycystic ovaries is not something serious, although it is advisable to be monitored by a specialist. The polycystic ovary itself does not require treatment, unless it associated with irregular cycles or amenorrhea. In such cases, it would be treated the same as PCOS to promote regulate cycles.


What is Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS)? Diagnosis and treatment

Whilst Polycystic Ovaries is more common, Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome is a condition with a set of indications and symptoms which affects approximately 8% of women.

PCOS occurs either by anovulation which produces irregular cycles or an absence of periods, or by an increase in the secretion of male hormones. Among other things, women who suffer from it may also be obese, insulin resistant, experience acne, have excess hair (hirsutism) and be infertile. This syndrome can occur throughout the fertile life, but it is more common in young women.

PCOS can be treated in different ways depending on the signs or symptoms that are present, some of the most common are:

  • Irregular cycles or amenorrhea which can be regulated with the contraceptive pill or other hormonal treatments.
  • Obesity must be treated with diet and exercise.
  • Clinical manifestations secondary to hirsutism can be treated with medication to improve hirsutism, acne, and alopecia. If these do not improve with the contraceptive pill, you can try an antiandrogenic pill.
  • In the event that there is associated infertility, each case will be assessed and ovulation induction, artificial insemination or in vitro fertilisation treatments will be implemented.


Polycystic Ovaries, PCOS and pregnancy

As we have seen previously, both conditions can be associated with anovulatory cycles. If there is no ovulation, there is no possibility of a natural pregnancy, but anovulatory cycles can often be sporadic and do not pose an infertility problem for many of these women.

However, for women who cant ovulate it will be necessary to resort to assisted reproduction to achieve a pregnancy. Once pregnant, the only thing to take into account in PCOS is to have well controlled blood glucose levels in women with associated insulin resistance. Otherwise, the follow-up will be exactly the same as for any other pregnant women.


Polycystic Ovaries, PCOS and menopause

Although Polycystic Ovary Syndrome is more common in young women between the ages of 20 and 30, it can also affect those who are in the menopausal period.

During this period the risk of cardiovascular problems increases, and 40% of women over 40 who have this disorder (PCOS) suffer from a metabolic syndrome related to hypertension, high cholesterol levels and a high body mass index; factors which will impact on heart health.



In short, if any of the symptoms mentioned above occur, it is important to see a doctor as soon as possible. In addition, in both of these cases, a visit to the gynecologist is required at least once every two years. Although the most common are cases of polycystic ovaries, we shouldn’t forget that there are other more serious pathologies such as PCOS. The sooner we treat the latter, the better. Therefore, with the help of professionals, it is possible to have a solution to the problem, improving the health and quality of life of women who suffer from it.