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Polycystic Ovaries but Not PCOS: What is My Condition?

Medically reviewed by Mary Rani Cadiz, MD · Obstetrics and Gynecology

Written by Lhay Ann Boctoy · Updated Jun 23, 2022

    Polycystic Ovaries but Not PCOS: What is My Condition?

    Polycystic ovaries but not PCOS? Is that possible? Polycystic ovaries or PCO is a condition where the ovaries appear to contain a higher number of ovarian follicles than usual. The cysts are sacs that are present in or on the ovaries and are filled with fluid. The ovarian cysts are usually detected and identified during an ultrasound scan. Polycystic ovaries are very common, and a lot of women are most likely to develop them at some point in their lifetime. 

    Polycystic ovaries are a natural occurrence, appearing as a result of a normal menstrual cycle or during the child-bearing years. Usually, the ovarian cysts are harmless. And after a few months, they will disappear on their own. In most cases, there is no need for treatment or medical attention.

    Cysts in the Ovary

    Ovarian cysts do not affect fertility, and women with this condition don’t have difficulty getting pregnant. However, it is advised to get medical treatment depending on:

    • Symptoms that the patient is feeling
    • The size and physical appearance of the cysts
    • Whether the patient is already menopause

    Polycystic ovaries or ovarian cysts are very common and are not life-threatening, but there are more serious cases where large cysts are detected and are potentially cancerous. A surgical procedure will be recommended in such cases to remove the ovarian cysts.

    Signs and Symptoms

    Polycystic ovaries are a common condition and usually don’t require medical treatment. It can develop undetected for a long time, and usually disappears on its own. But in other cases, signs and symptoms are present namely:

  • irregular or no menstruation at all
  • pelvic pain
  • nausea
  • lower back pain
  • acne
  • abdominal pressure
  • high blood pressure
  • weight gain
  • These symptoms are also commonly present in the case of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome or PCOS. What is PCOS and how is it related to PCO?

    Polycystic Ovary Syndrome

    Polycystic Ovary Syndrome or PCOS is a metabolic condition where the ovaries have 12 or more cystic follicles. It is a hormonal disorder that commonly affects women of reproductive age, and causes infrequent or longer menstrual periods. It can also cause excessive production of male hormones or androgen. The follicles that develop on or in the ovary may cause failure of releasing eggs.

    Causes of PCOS

    The exact cause of PCOS is still undetermined. However, there are certain factors that can contribute to its development, namely:

    Heredity. Studies suggest that certain kinds of genes might be linked to PCOS.

    Low-grade inflammation. PCOS has a type of low-grade inflammation that can cause polycystic ovaries to produce androgen, which may result in heart problems.

    Excess androgen. Abnormally high levels of androgen can cause acne and hirsutism or excessive facial and body hair.

    Excess Insulin. This might increase the production of androgen,which can affect ovulation.

    Signs and symptoms

    The signs and symptoms of PCOS may vary. You may have PCOS when you experience at least two of the following symptoms:

    Irregular periods. The most common sign of PCOS is irregular menstrual cycles, that can be prolonged, infrequent, or completely non-existent.

    Excess androgen. High levels of male hormones may cause severe acne, hirsutism and baldness.

    Polycystic ovaries. Ovaries might fail to function normally because of the follicles that surround the eggs, your ovaries might also be slightly enlarged.

    Polycystic ovaries but not PCOS

    There is common confusion regarding the difference between Polycystic Ovaries and Polycystic Ovary Syndrome. One is a medical concern while the other is a common incidental finding on ultrasound.

    Polycystic ovaries or PCO is not a disease and is a variant of normal ovaries. Polycystic Ovary Syndrome or PCOS, on the other hand, is a metabolic disorder correlated with an unstable level of hormones released from a woman’s ovaries. Having been diagnosed with PCO does not necessarily mean you have PCOS as well.

    Before the formal diagnosis, the signs and symptoms that the patient has polycystic ovaries but not PCOS, are as follows:

    • PCO is much more common than PCOS
    • PCO do not usually show signs and symptoms and are normally detected by chance during ultrasound diagnosis. PCOS shows symptoms like acne and excessive hair growth due to metabolic disturbance.
    • Ovarian cysts may be one of the symptoms of PCOS but having PCO does not necessarily mean you have PCOS.
    • PCO is a normal occurrence whilst PCOS is a metabolic disorder and associated with hormonal imbalance
    • PCO is not necessarily a health risk and can disappear on its own. PCOS, however, can lead to pregnancy complications, obesity, diabetes, and endometrial hyperplasia that can lead to endometrial cancer
    • Polycystic ovaries may be caused by a variety of reasons, while PCOS is linked to a hormonal disorder
    • Pregnancy and fertility may not be affected by PCO whilst difficulty in falling pregnant and infertility are some of the effects of PCOS.
    • The miscarriage rate in PCOS is higher than PCO cases.

    Key Takeaway

    Common diseases and health conditions are usually diagnosed during the child-bearing age of women when symptoms appear or are discovered accidentally during health check-ups.

    Polycystic ovaries, if without symptoms, may be observed. However, it is best to consult with your doctor so that proper evaluation may be made. Polycystic ovarian syndrome, on the other hand, should be addressed early for management.

    Learn more about PCOS here


    Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

    Medically reviewed by

    Mary Rani Cadiz, MD

    Obstetrics and Gynecology

    Written by Lhay Ann Boctoy · Updated Jun 23, 2022

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