The Grapevine

Women's Health: PCOS Diagnoses Double Chances Of Being Hospitalized For Mental, Chronic Illness

Woman In Hospital
Women with polycystic ovary syndrome, which causes a range of symptoms from facial hair growth to infertility, are twice as likely to be hospitalized than healthy women, a new study finds. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

Living with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) can be both embarrassing and anxiety-ridden, as symptoms ranging from the growth of facial hair to infertility affect women from the outside and inside. These emotional struggles are likely worsened when considering the risk of complications like diabetes. Because there’s so much to deal with, it’s not surprising that many of these women end up being hospitalized. And now, a new study finds they run twice the risk of ending up in an emergency room than healthy women.

Researchers from the University of Western Australia in Perth found women with PCOS were more likely than their healthy counterparts to end up in the hospital for miscarriages, ectopic pregnancies — when the fetus implants in say, the fallopian tubes, rather than the uterus — irregular menstrual periods, and endometriosis, a painful disorder that occurs when the lining of the uterus grows somewhere else inside the pelvic region. They were also more likely to be admitted for mental health disorders like depression and anxiety, as well as late onset diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, asthma, and musculoskeletal problems.  

PCOS is a condition characterized by hormone imbalance in a woman’s body, which leads to the production of more androgen hormones — male hormones — like testosterone. These excess androgens cause problems with the development and release of eggs during ovulation; hirsutism, or the growth of hair on the face, chest, and back; acne, and the growth of cysts on the ovaries, according to the Department of Health and Human Services. Women with PCOS also have higher levels of insulin in their blood, which contributes to weight gain by making the body store fat.

Altogether, these women probably find themselves dealing with these symptoms on a daily basis, which increases stress and anxiety levels, worsening some symptoms, and thus perpetuating a cycle of declining health. This can go on for years, resulting in the onset of chronic diseases. One in 10 to one in 20 women are affected by the disorder, making it all the more important to find help managing the condition early, in order to prevent the onset of these diseases.

"PCOS has profound implications for a woman's reproductive health as well as her long-term risk of chronic illness," said Dr. Roger Hart, an author of the study from the University of Western Australia, 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."

For the study, the researchers took health records from 2,566 women aged 15 and up who were diagnosed with PCOS in west Australia between 1997 and 2011, and compared them to the hospitalization records of 25,660 women in the general population. They then tracked both populations’ hospitalization records till the women reached a median age of about 35 years. Because so many of the women were under 40, the researchers believe many more of them will develop chronic disease as when they get older.

Research suggests that eating a balanced diet full of whole grains, non-starchy vegetables, fresh fruits, high-fiber cereals, and sugar-free drinks, as well as staying fit could manage symptoms of PCOS. One study from last year also found eating cinnamon could possibly normalize fluctuating menstrual cycles. Still, living with PCOS is a daily struggle many women might find is easier to handle with a tailored treatment crafted in conjunction with their doctors.

Source: Doherty D, Hart R. The Potential Implications of a PCOS Diagnosis on a Woman's Long-term Health Using Data Linkage. Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism. 2015.  

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