Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is the most common endocrinopathy in women of reproductive age, with a prevalence of up to 10%. Various diagnostic criteria have been proposed, generally centered around the features of hyperandrogenism and/or hyperandrogenemia, oligo-ovulation and polycystic ovarian morphology. Insulin resistance is present in a majority of cases, with compensatory hyperinsulinemia contributing to hyperandrogenism via stimulation of ovarian androgen secretion and inhibition of hepatic sex hormone-binding globulin production. Adipose tissue dysfunction has been implicated as a contributor to the insulin resistance observed in PCOS. Environmental and genetic factors also have a role in the development of PCOS. The syndrome is associated with numerous morbidities, including infertility, obstetrical complications, type 2 diabetes mellitus, cardiovascular disease, and mood and eating disorders. Despite these morbidities, PCOS may be common in our society owing to evolutionary advantages of the syndrome in ancient times, including smaller family sizes, reduced exposure to childbirth-related mortality, increased muscle mass and greater capacity to store energy. The diagnosis of PCOS hinges on establishing key features while ruling out other hyperandrogenic or oligo-ovulatory disorders. Treatment is focused on the goals of ameliorating hyperandrogenic symptoms, inducing ovulation and preventing cardiometabolic complications. © 2011 Macmillan Publishers Limited. All rights reserved.