Polycystic ovaries (PCO) diagnosed by ultrasound have been commonly reported amongst healthy women. The study aimed to determine the prevalence of PCO in a population of women from the community, and to relate it to clinical and endocrinological data. Twelve hundred women chosen randomly from electoral rolls were invited to take part in the study. Two hundred and fifty five women (21%) who met eligibility criteria greed to participate and 183 women 916%) finally completed the study. Seventy two women did not attend. An ultrasound scan and blood tests were taken on day 5-9 of their menstrual cycles. Data about their menstrual periods and reproductive history was collected. The prevalence of PCO was 21% (39 of 183). No differences existed between women with PCO and normal ovaries with respect to uterine size, body mass index, luteinizing hormone levels, serum hormone binding globulin levels and fertility status. Hirsutism (Ferriman Gallwey score > 7), elevated testosterone levels and irregular menstrual cycles were significantly more frequent amongst women with PCO. Mean ovarian volume was larger in women with PCO irrespective of the use of hormonal contraception. Fifty nine per cent of women with PCO had irregular menstrual cycles or elevated Ferriman Gallwey scores or both. There was no detectable effect of PCO on parity or miscarriage although only 70% of women with PCO had evidence of an adequate ovulation compared to 95% of women with normal ovaries.