PCOS Comes With High Morbidity,
Medication Use

Marcia Frellick

June 09, 2022

Women with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) have an increased risk for several diseases and symptoms, many independent of body mass index (BMI), new research indicates.

Some diseases are linked for the first time to PCOS in this study, the authors wrote.

Researchers, led by Linda Kujanpää, MD, of the research unit for pediatrics, dermatology, clinical genetics, obstetrics, and gynecology at University of Oulu (Finland), found the morbidity risk is evident through the late reproductive years.

The paper was published online in Acta Obstetricia et Gynecologica Scandinavica.

This population-based follow-up study investigated comorbidities and medication and health care services use among women with PCOS in Finland at age 46 years via answers to a questionnaire.

The whole PCOS population (n = 280) consisted of women who reported both hirsutism and oligo/amenorrhea at age 31 (4.1%) and/or polycystic ovary morphology/PCOS at age 46 (3.1%), of which 246 replied to the 46-year questionnaire. They were compared with a control group of 1,573 women without PCOS.

Overall morbidity risk was 35% higher than for women without PCOS (risk ratio, 1.35; 95% confidence interval, 1.16-1.57). Medication use was 27% higher (RR, 1.27; 95% CI, 1.08-1.50), and the risk remained after adjusting for BMI.

Diagnoses with increased prevalence in women with PCOS were osteoarthritis, migraine, hypertension, tendinitis, and endometriosis. PCOS was also associated with autoimmune diseases and recurrent upper respiratory tract infections.

"BMI seems not to be solely responsible for the increased morbidity," the researchers found. The average morbidity score of women with PCOS with a BMI of 25 kg/m2 or higher was similar to that of women with PCOS and lower BMI.

Mindy Christianson, MD, medical director at Johns Hopkins Fertility Center and associate professor of gynecology and obstetrics at Johns Hopkins University, both in Baltimore, said in an interview that the links to diseases independent of BMI are interesting because there's so much focus on counseling women with PCOS to lose weight.

While that message is still important, it's important to realize that some related diseases and conditions — such as autoimmune diseases and migraine — are not driven by BMI.

"It really drives home the point that polycystic ovary syndrome is really a chronic medical condition and puts patients at risk for a number of health conditions," she said. "Having a good primary care physician is important to help them with their overall health."

Women with PCOS said their health was poor or very poor almost three times more often than did women in the control group.

Surprisingly few studies have looked at overall comorbidity in women with PCOS, the authors wrote.

"This should be of high priority given the high cost to society resulting from PCOS-related morbidity," they added. As an example, they pointed out that PCOS-related type 2 diabetes alone costs an estimated $1.77 billion in the United States and £237 million ($310 million) each year in the United Kingdom.

Additionally, the focus in previous research has typically been on women in their early or mid-reproductive years, and morbidity burden data in late reproductive years are scarce.

The study population was pulled from the longitudinal Northern Finland Birth Cohort 1966 and included all pregnancies with estimated date of delivery during 1966 in two provinces of Finland (5,889 women).

Christianson said she hopes this study will spur more research on PCOS, which has been severely underfunded, especially in the United States.

Part of the reason for that is there is a limited number of subspecialists in the country who work with patients with PCOS and do research in the area. PCOS often gets lost in the research priorities of infertility, diabetes, and thyroid disease.

The message in this study that PCOS is not just a fertility issue or an obesity issue but an overall health issue with a substantial cost to the health system may help raise awareness, Christianson said.

This study was supported by grants from The Finnish Medical Foundation, The Academy of Finland, The Sigrid Juselius Foundation, The Finnish Cultural Foundation, The Jalmari and Rauha Ahokas Foundation, The Päivikki and Sakari Sohlberg Foundation, Genesis Research Trust, The Medical Research Council, University of Oulu, Oulu University Hospital, Ministry of Health and Social Affairs, National Institute for Health and Welfare, Regional Institute of Occupational Health, and the European Regional Development Fund. The Study authors and Christianson reported no relevant financial relationships.

This article originally appeared on MDedge.com, part of the Medscape Professional Network.

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