Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a common condition that’s caused by an imbalance of reproductive hormones in people assigned female at birth. Inflammatory PCOS is often mistaken for a distinct type of PCOS, but PCOS isn’t actually classified in this way.

Instead, research suggests that PCOS is always closely associated with inflammation. Using blood tests, most studies have found that people with PCOS have higher levels of certain inflammatory markers than people without PCOS.

PCOS is a common, but underdiagnosed, condition that can affect your periods, metabolism, and ability to get pregnant without assistance. PCOS affects the ovaries, which produce the hormones responsible for ovulation and menstruation — estrogen and progesterone.

PCOS impacts between 5 and 15 percent of women, and can cause many symptoms.

Symptoms of PCOS include:

  • Irregular periods. This can include missed periods, frequent periods, or no periods at all.
  • Too much hair. Also called hirsutism, this happens when you have more than a typical amount of hair on your face, chin, legs, or other parts of your body.
  • Acne. In people with PCOS, acne is common on the face, chest, and upper back.
  • Thinning hair. Hair loss or thinning on the scalp.
  • Weight gain. People with PCOS often have trouble losing weight.
  • Ovarian cysts. Cysts are small fluid-filled sacs, and they can form in one or both ovaries.

Many studies have shown a strong association between PCOS and chronic, low-grade inflammation. People with PCOS are more likely to have certain markers in their blood that indicate this type of inflammation.

Inflammation is your body’s natural response to threats, such as injuries and viruses. It’s a complex process that begins with your immune system. Inflammation is meant to protect you while you heal, but chronic (long lasting) inflammation can cause a lot of problems.

Chronic inflammation happens when the inflammatory response continues even though you’re no longer sick or injured. It’s often seen in autoimmune conditions — such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis — when the immune system mistakes your body’s own tissues for a foreign threat.

As opposed to acute (short-term) inflammation, which only lasts as long as your body needs to heal, chronic inflammation is a slow process that can last for months or years. It’s often referred to as low grade inflammation because it’s less of a tidal wave and more of a slow and steady drip.

Other causes of chronic inflammation include:

Experts don’t know exactly what causes PCOS. Most believe it’s a combination of genetics and other factors, including:

  • High androgen levels. Androgens are known as male hormones, but most people produce them regardless of their sex. People with PCOS have higher levels of androgens than what’s typically seen in female individuals.
  • High levels of insulin. People with PCOS tend to be insulin resistant, which means their bodies don’t use insulin as effectively as they should. To compensate, the body produces excess insulin.
  • High levels of inflammation. Inflammation levels can be measured by looking at certain biomarkers in your bloodstream, including C-reactive protein (CRP). People with PCOS have higher-than-normal CRP levels.

The low-grade inflammation that’s associated with PCOS is a risk factor for several health complications.


When you have PCOS, chronic inflammation can contribute to difficulties getting pregnant. Specifically, inflammation may affect the normal function of your ovaries.

PCOS can interfere with ovulation, lowering the chance that your ovaries will release a healthy egg. It can also interfere with implantation, the process in which a fertilized embryo burrows into the walls of the uterus and begins to grow.

Type 2 diabetes

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than half of women with PCOS develop type 2 diabetes before they turn 40. This means type 2 diabetes is much more common among people with PCOS than people without the condition.

One large study found that women with PCOS were four times more likely to develop type 2 diabetes than their counterparts without PCOS. Chronic inflammation, insulin resistance, and excess weight all play a role in the development of type 2 diabetes.

Heart disease

People with PCOS are at increased risk of heart disease. Oxidative stress, which is related to inflammation, can take a toll on your heart over time. High blood pressure and stroke are also more common for people who have PCOS.

Lowering inflammation in your body can help lower your risk of complications from PCOS.

Anti-inflammatory diet for PCOS

Some people choose to follow an anti-inflammatory diet to help manage their PCOS symptoms and lower their risk of complications. Every person’s body responds differently to different foods, so it can take some trial and error to find an anti-inflammatory diet that will work for you. Still, there are some foods that typically promote inflammation and some that typically combat it.

A good rule of thumb is to eat a varied diet rich in vitamins, nutrients, and antioxidants. Focus on eating foods that will nourish your body instead of eliminating entire food groups. With that being said, some inflammatory foods you may want to avoid include:

  • refined carbohydrates (white bread, pastries, donuts, cakes)
  • milk, cheese, and dairy products
  • sugary snacks and beverages
  • processed meats
  • alcohol
  • foods with preservatives


People with PCOS can use regular exercise to lower their risk of complications. Exercise can lower inflammation levels, improve insulin resistance, and help you keep a moderate weight. Regular exercise also lowers your risk of type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

Research shows that vigorous, intense exercise has the greatest results in people with PCOS. To reduce your risk of PCOS complications, studies suggest a minimum of 120 minutes of vigorous exercise per week. This can include things such as:

  • running
  • swimming
  • high-intensity interval training (HIIT classes)
  • spinning
  • kickboxing

Other ways to lower inflammation

You may also be able to lower inflammation in your body with holistic methods. These aren’t scientifically backed therapies, but they may help improve your overall health and well-being.

These strategies include:

Inflammatory PCOS isn’t a specific type of PCOS. Most people with PCOS have elevated levels of chronic inflammation. Chronic inflammation and PCOS are linked to a number of potential complications, including type 2 diabetes and obesity. Lifestyle changes that reduce inflammation in your body may help you manage your PCOS symptoms and lower your risk of complications.