What are polycystic ovaries?

Polycystic ovaries refers to the presence of many cyst-like structures on the surface of your ovaries. It’s actually normal to have some of these on our ovaries as they contain developing eggs. The eggs are surrounded in a fluid-filled sac and together, the whole structure is called a follicle. So follicles aren’t actually cysts at all, but in polycystic ovaries there are greater than 12 immature follicles on each ovary, giving the ovaries a cystic appearance.

Is it normal to have polycystic ovaries?
Although it is not considered normal to have 12 or more follicles on each ovary it is very common. It is thought that at least 20 percent of women will have polycystic ovaries when their ovaries are viewed on an ultrasound. This may be a passing state of affairs with no other symptoms or it may be part of a more serious condition – polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS).

In PCOS, hormonal regulation is disrupted by high levels of the male-type hormones, androgens. This can cause acne, irregular periods, male-pattern hair growth, hair loss, interfere with ovulation (the release of an egg from your ovaries) and thus fertility, and much more. PCOS is highly associated with insulin resistance – where the body isn’t able to utilise insulin properly and high levels of insulin remain in the bloodstream, triggering androgen release from the ovaries and the ensuing hormonal imbalance and polycystic ovaries.

Even if you don’t have polycystic ovaries on your ultrasound, you may still be diagnosed with PCOS due to the presence of other symptoms such as irregular periods, acne or high androgens on a blood test. If you think you might have polycystic ovarian syndrome, find out more here.

Find out more about PCOS here. 

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Josephine Cabrall BHSc(NAT) | ATMS
Josephine Cabrall is qualified naturopath specialising in PCOS and hormonal and fertility issues, based out of Melbourne, Australia. Josephine is a fully insured member of the Australian Traditional Medicine Society (ATMS).