Despite the importance of periodic gynecological examinations, something that we always insist on, most of the anomalies detected in these checkups are benign. Which does not mean that a correct diagnosis is not necessary and that sometimes, one or several treatments are required. The term benign, in the medical field, is used to designate those conditions, tumors or non-cancerous neoplasms that, generally speaking, grow slowly and are not life-threatening. However, they can cause health problems that can significantly alter quality of life.

This is the case of polycystic ovaries and polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). Many women confuse both pathologies, which we will now describe:

Polycystic ovaries

Polycystic ovaries, despite what may seem, are not directly related to the development of cysts, although they may cause their appearance. They result from an alteration in the disposition of the follicles —anatomical-functional structures that are part of the ovaries— common in young women. They are sometimes associated with painful ovulations and irregular periods. Tt would be more accurate, though, to call these ovaries ‘multicystic’ rather than ‘polycystic’ because in most cases they are asymptomatic and do not require treatment, only monitoring.

When symptoms do appear, the specialist will prescribe a hormonal treatment adapted to the needs of each patient.

With time, ovaries tend to stop being polycystic because the number of follicles and the associated symptoms decrease.

Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS)

PCOS occurs when the ovaries or the female adrenal glands produce excessive male hormones, causing the appearance of ovarian cysts and the following symptoms:

  • Irregular cycles.
  • Amenorrhea (absence of periods).
  • Increased body hair and hair loss, acne and obesity.
  • Diabetes or cardiovascular diseases.
  • Lack of ovulation and, therefore, sterility.

Both types of ovaries share some symptoms and sometimes it may be difficult to distinguish them in ultrasounds. The difference is that PCOS is a serious condition accompanied by clinical and analytical alterations. Therefore the specialist must be extremely cautious when making a diagnosis in order to spare unnecessary anxiety to the patient.

Also, PCOS can be mild, moderate or severe, so each patient will require a specific and personalized study. Treatments will vary, although as a general rule they will start with a strict dietary control.

It is also important to know that PCOS, unlike polycystic ovaries, usually becomes more severe when not treated properly.


We have seen that PCO and PCOS are very different pathologies. In fact, the former is associated with very fertile women and the latter may cause sterility. Should any of the symptoms above described appear, it is advisable to visit the specialist as soon as possible both to alleviate the possible discomfort and to prevent diseases such as diabetes in the case of PCOS.

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