Do Ovarian Cysts Define PCOS?

By Angi Ingalls


PCOS (Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome) was originally named “Stein-Leventhal Syndrome” after the two doctors who classified this disease back in the 1930s, having found polycystic ovaries to be the number one symptom in their patients. It was considered the defining symptom to diagnose what is now called Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS).

Medical research has come a long way since then. New discoveries are made everyday and improved technologies surface to help us find answers.

Typical symptoms of PCOS are menstrual issues, lack of or inconsistent ovulation, ovarian cysts, hormonal imbalances, skin conditions, excess hair growth and/or loss of hair, depression, mood swings, infertility and changes in weight – just to name a few. As you see, PCOS is properly categorized as a “Syndrome” meaning “a complex of symptoms that together indicate the existence of an undesirable condition or disease.”

Having said that, a woman can have all, some or even none of these symptoms present to live with PCOS.

You may be thinking “How can that be if Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome indicates cysts on the ovaries? It implies polycystic ovaries right in the name! Wouldn’t that mean I would have to have cysts to have PCOS?”

Absolutely not. Remember, the term “PCOS” has been used for decades – before we knew that PCOS begins in the endocrine system and that reproductive issues are only symptoms of the underlying cause, insulin resistance.

Polycystic Ovaries

Polycystic Ovaries or PCO is a symptom and in many cases, its own diagnosis, not the defining issue of PCOS. In fact, a female at any age can have PCO – regardless of their medical conditions or lack thereof. Cysts are natural and are not always considered alarming. The cysts become of medical concern when they are long-lasting and problematic.

You may be the victim of an unknowledgeable doctor if (s) he dismisses PCOS because you don’t suffer from polycystic ovaries.

PCOS is diagnosed using, at the very minimum, two tools. Blood work and medical history are absolutely vital. In some cases, a pelvic or abdominal ultrasound is used, and some doctors perform a laparoscopy. Whatever approach your doctor decides to use, make sure they are using more than one medical method for diagnosing.

If a doctor looks at you, without doing any test, and tells you that you do or do not have PCOS, seek another opinion. I would encourage you to find an Endocrinologist or a Reproductive Endocrinologist for this particular disease as PCOS is linked with insulin resistance.

If you are a woman with PCOS, with polycystic ovaries, you have several treatment options available to you.

1)     Treating the PCOS – This is always a must, not just for the cysts but for your body as a whole. I strongly recommend a health care protocol including the basic needs: nutrition, exercise and support to help the process and remain focused. Many, including myself, have also used or needed supplements to help the process along. Let’s face it, our bodies do not function properly and usually need something to tell our system “hey, this is what you are supposed to do.” That said, I highly suggest the very popular system called the Insulite PCOS System at

2)      Ovarian Drilling – This is a medical procedure performed with a laparoscopy and you do not have to have cysts to have it done. The purpose is to burn away any cysts and/or part of the ovary with hormonal build-up. The benefits can last up to 2 years – if not more! I had this procedure done in 2001 and will do it again if necessary. Before my ovarian drilling, I was lucky to have my menstrual period every 3 to 4 months. With the surgery, Metformin (see side effects), eating healthily and exercising, I have been regular and ovulatory ever since.

3)     Medications (i.e. Clomid, injections) – If you are trying to conceive, this is another option. These medications can help you ovulate. You can also use medications even if you do not want children; just make sure you use other methods of birth control such as condoms, diaphragms or abstinence. For some, once you ovulate, it’s like kick starting your body into motion. The benefits can last up to 6 months or more. It is especially important to consider the side effects of Clomid (Clomiphene Citrate), and to consider other alternatives. No matter what you decide regarding Clomiphene Citrate, adopting a healthy lifestyle that includes a nutritious diet, regular exercise, and dietary supplements gives you the best chance at a successful pregnancy and overall good health.

4)      Having a baby – Yes, believe it or not, this is an option. The same applies as the previously mentioned but the lasting effects can be much longer – for some women, it has been said up to two years!

I hope you feel more confident about dealing with ovarian cysts. For some women, it can be utterly painful, others might not even know they have them. Dealing with them is quite frustrating, I’m sure. Knowledge is power!

Published originally in PCOSA Today

About the author

Angi Ingalls has been living with PCOS since she was 8 years old. Her support for women with PCOS began when she was 15 and started her own personal outreach and education program to both the medical community and her peers. On moving to Connecticut in March 2007, she was concerned with the lack of PCOS, pre-diabetes and diabetes support and started a local support group – PCOS in ConnecTion. A PCOSA Ambassador, Angi is active in the organization’s Connecticut chapter.

Next Steps

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