Polycystic Ovaries vs Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome

Polycystic Ovaries vs Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome

What is the Difference?

A common confusion among women, is understanding the difference between having polycystic ovaries (PCO) and having been diagnosed with a Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS).

PCO refers to an ultrasound scan image of the ovaries that appear to be polycystic (ovaries containing high density of partially mature follicles).

PCOS is a metabolic condition that may or may not come with having polycystic ovaries.

PCOS Without PCO

PCO is more common than PCOS and a patient maybe diagnosed with PCOS without PCO.

For example she may have PCOS with the following symptoms:

  • Irregular periods
  • Increased male hormone in the blood test or associated symptoms such as extra hair growth or acne.

Other conditions such as thyroid or pituitary dysfunction need to be excluded before PCOS diagnosis is made.

Similar Names But Different Risks & Treatments

The risks and medical treatments may be very different.




Who Does it Affect

12-18% of women of reproductive age, (70% remain undiagnosed)

Up to 33% of women of childbearing age having polycystic ovaries on ultrasound and no other symptoms.

Type of Disorder

A metabolic disorder associated with an unbalanced hormone levels released by the woman’s ovaries

Not a disease but a variant of normal ovaries 


Developing associated short and long-term effects

Dissimilar profile

Associated Risks

Diabetes, pregnancy complications (ie. gestational diabetes), cardiovascular disease, obesity and endometrial cancer.

Dissimilar profile

Early Symptoms

Evident early in life

No symptoms and often discovered by chance

Genetic Nature

Can show symptoms (acne, excess hair growth etc.) in teen years, due to metabolic disturbance

May show early but mostly discovered incidentally during health checks in older women


Linked to a hormonal disorder

Cysts may be caused by a variety of reasons

Hormonal Balance Disturbance

Causing high insulin release stimulating production of androgens from the ovary disturbing ovulation.

Undisturbed, with typically normal hormonal balance and continued regular ovulation


Struggles with infertility and have problems falling pregnant

Conception may not be difficult

Miscarriage Rate