The Difference Between PCO and PCOS

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The medical conditions PCO (Polycystic Ovaries) and PCOS (Polycystic Ovary Syndrome) are often conflated, leading to misunderstandings about their symptoms and treatments.

This in-depth guide aims to provide clarity on both conditions, as well as comprehensive tips for managing each.

Polycystic Ovaries (PCO) refers to the presence of multiple cysts in the ovaries, generally discovered through an ultrasound. However, the condition doesn't always manifest symptoms or hormonal imbalances. Women with PCO might not experience discomfort or any outward signs that could raise concern.

Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS), on the other hand, is a hormonal disorder that comes with an array of symptoms such as irregular menstrual cycles, elevated androgen levels, acne, hirsutism, and usually, but not always, polycystic ovaries.

The Core Differences Between PCO and PCOS

Both conditions involve the presence of polycystic ovaries, but PCOS extends further to include a wide range of systemic symptoms such as weight gain, insulin resistance, and complications related to fertility. In contrast, PCO is largely asymptomatic and does not generally lead to other health issues.

Managing PCO mainly revolves around monitoring and preventive care due to its asymptomatic nature.

Strategies for Managing PCOS


Several types of medications can be employed to treat the various symptoms of PCOS.

  • Metformin: Commonly prescribed for weight loss and to manage insulin resistance, Metformin is often recommended by the NHS for treating PCOS.
  • Clomiphene: This fertility drug is commonly used to assist with pregnancy planning for women with PCOS.

Hormonal Interventions

Hormonal imbalances in PCOS can be treated through a couple of medical avenues.

  • Oral Contraceptives: These pills regulate hormones and help normalise menstrual cycles.
  • Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT): Particularly useful for menopausal women who continue to experience PCOS symptoms.


Diet plays an integral role in managing PCOS, especially given its impact on weight and insulin resistance.

  • Low Glycemic Index Foods: Whole grains, lentils, and oats can help manage insulin levels.
  • Lean Proteins: Turkey, fish, and skinless chicken can support weight loss efforts.
  • High-fibre Foods: Vegetables, fruits, and legumes can aid in lowering insulin resistance.

Lifestyle Modifications

Lifestyle changes are often the first line of treatment for managing PCOS symptoms effectively.

  • Regular Exercise: Cardiovascular exercises like swimming, brisk walking, and even strength training can help in weight loss and improve fertility.
  • Stress Management: Techniques like mindfulness and yoga can reduce cortisol levels, aiding hormonal balance.

Supplementary Options

Supplements can offer additional support in managing PCOS symptoms.

  • Inositol: Supports egg health and regular ovulation, as well as reducing insulin resistance.
  • N-Acetyl Cysteine (NAC): NAC has been shown to improve insulin sensitivity, thereby helping to manage one of the root causes of PCOS—insulin resistance. It also has anti-inflammatory properties that can mitigate some of the systemic inflammation often seen in PCOS. 
  • Psyllium Husk: Reduces risk of insulin resistance. Insulin resistance can trigger the ovaries to overproduce androgen hormones. 
  • Omega-3 Fatty Acids: The anti-inflammatory properties of Omega-3s can help reduce systemic inflammation, thereby aiding in the reduction of symptoms like acne and hirsutism. Another key benefit is the improvement of insulin sensitivity. Omega-3s have shown promise in regulating insulin levels, which is crucial for weight management and overall hormonal balance. 

Though related, PCO and PCOS are distinct conditions requiring different management strategies.  Always consult healthcare professionals for diagnosis and appropriate treatment options.

Further reading

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