The criteria for the diagnosis of the polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) have still not been agreed universally. A population of 1741 women with PCOS were studied, all of whom had polycystic ovaries seen by ultrasound scan. The frequency distributions of the serum concentrations of follicle stimulating hormone (FSH), luteinizing hormone (LH), testosterone and prolactin and the body mass index, ovarian volume, uterine cross-sectional area and endometrial thickness were determined and compared with the symptoms and signs of PCOS. Obesity was associated with hirsutism and an elevated serum testosterone concentration and was also correlated with increased rates of infertility and cycle disturbance. The rates of infertility and cycle disturbance also increased with serum LH concentrations > 10 IU/l. A rising serum concentration of testosterone [mean and 95th percentiles 2.6 (1.1-4.8) nmol/l] was associated with an increased risk of hirsutism, infertility and cycle disturbance. The ovarian volume was correlated with serum concentrations of testosterone, LH and the body mass index, which was also correlated with the uterine area. This descriptive data from the largest reported series of women with PCOS enables the development of a management-orientated approach to the syndrome. Women who are overweight can expect an improvement in their symptoms if they lose weight. An elevated concentration of LH (> 10 IU/l) is associated with infertility and treatment should be chosen accordingly. If the serum testosterone concentration is > 4.8 nmol/l, other causes of hyperandrogenism should be excluded.