Ovarian Problem May Have Other Health Effects

Polycystic ovary syndrome in women may affect overall health, not just reproduction

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) and infertility have been well-known dance partners for many years. Now new evidence suggests that PCOS is also dancing with a lot of other chronic health issues.

A new study from Australia found that PCOS may increase the risk that otherwise healthy women will develop heart disease, diabetes, mental health conditions and cancer of the lining of the uterus.

These researchers noted that the implications of chronic disease risks among women with PCOS may mean more health resources are needed to help these women.

“PCOS has profound implications for a women’s reproductive health as well as her long-term risk of chronic illness,” said study author Roger Hart, MD, in a press release. “Our study indicates women who have PCOS have twice as many hospital admissions as women without the condition. Additional health care resources should be directed to address the risks facing this population.”

Dr. Hart added that “We found women who have PCOS are particularly prone to developing metabolic and cardiovascular disease. Since only 25 percent of the women we studied were older than 40, we anticipate the rate of diagnosis would rise as these women continue to age.”

PCOS is the most common hormone disorder among women of reproductive age. A leading cause of infertility, PCOS occurs when the body produces too much testosterone and other hormones called androgens.

Women with PCOS typically have irregular or absent menstrual periods, infertility, and excess body and facial hair. They may also have excessive weight gain, acne and thinning scalp hair.

Dr. Hart and colleague Dorota A. Doherty, PhD, of the School of Women’s and Infants’ Health at the University of Western Australia in Crawley, collected their data by studying health records for more than 2,500 women who had been hospitalized in Western Australia and had also been diagnosed with PCOS. The women were 15 years of age or older and were tracked until they were in their mid-30s.

These researchers compared the women who had PCOS with women of similar ages who did not have PCOS.

They found that women diagnosed with PCOS were more likely to have miscarriages, ectopic pregnancies, endometriosis and cancer of the uterine lining than women without PCOS. These findings were not unexpected, as PCOS affects fertility and the reproductive system, Drs. Hart and Doherty noted.

However, Drs. Hart and Doherty also found that a diagnosis of PCOS increased the risk that women would develop late onset diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, asthma and musculoskeletal problems.

In some cases, the increased risk for women with PCOS was significant. For instance, women with PCOS had a 3.8 percent risk of being hospitalized with circulatory disorders — compared to 0.7 percent for women without PCOS.

Compared to women without PCOS, PCOS patients were almost twice as likely to be hospitalized for musculoskeletal conditions. Women with PCOS were more than twice as likely to be hospitalized for asthma than women without PCOS.

Although Drs. Hart and Doherty uncovered potential problems for women with PCOS, their research also shines a light on preventive strategies.

For instance, if women with PCOS have an increased risk of heart disease and diabetes, they can take steps to improve their diets and exercise regularly to prevent obesity. Obesity is a known risk factor for both diabetes and heart disease.

Women with PCOS should also work closely with a doctor to improve their overall health.

This study was published Jan. 27 in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism.

The authors disclosed no funding sources or conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
January 26, 2015
Last Updated:
January 29, 2015