Polycystic ovarian syndrome: diagnosis and management

Clin Med Res. 2004 Feb;2(1):13-27. doi: 10.3121/cmr.2.1.13.


Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) affects 4% to 12% of women of reproductive age. The lack of well-defined diagnostic criteria makes identification of this common disease confusing to many clinicians. Also, with the varied manifestations of the disorder a patient may present to any one of several providers: an internist, family practitioner, nurse practitioner, pediatrician, gynecologist, dermatologist, or endocrinologist. Furthermore, the most distressing aspect of PCOS for any given patient may change over time, from hirsutism as a teenager to infertility as a young adult--potentially requiring several different providers along the way. It is important, therefore, that those caring for these patients understand not only the management issues pertinent to their specialty, but also appreciate the other potential health risks in these women. Recent insights into the pathophysiology of PCOS have shown insulin resistance to play a substantial role and as such have brought the long-term issues of type 2 diabetes mellitus and its resultant increased risk of coronary artery disease to the forefront. No longer can irregular menses and/or hirsutism be thought of as benign nuisances. This review will focus on the two most confusing aspects of PCOS for the practicing provider--diagnosis/differential diagnosis and treatment options. Special attention is given to the role of insulin resistance and the potential utility of insulin sensitizers in management. The benefit and utmost importance of lifestyle modification for the long-term health of these women is stressed as well. It is hoped that some clarity in this regard will allow more women to not only be diagnosed and managed properly for their presenting symptoms (hirsutism, irregular menses, etc.), but also to be educated and managed for the continuing health risk of insulin resistance throughout their lives.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infertility, Female / diagnosis
  • Infertility, Female / etiology
  • Infertility, Female / therapy
  • Insulin Resistance*
  • Polycystic Ovary Syndrome / complications
  • Polycystic Ovary Syndrome / diagnosis*
  • Polycystic Ovary Syndrome / therapy*