Polycystic ovary syndrome impairs women’s quality of life longer than previously thought

Women afflicted with PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome) still have a poorer quality of life at the age of 46. Because earlier research mainly focused on women of reproductive age, the effects of the syndrome on the life of older women have remained unknown.

A study published in the renowned Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism revealed that women afflicted with PCOS have a decreased quality of life compared to their peers at the age of 31, and 15 years later, at the age of 46. The women felt that their health was poorer and they were less satisfied with their life compared to their peers with no PCOS symptoms.

The study, led by Terhi Piltonen, Professor at the University of Oulu, involved a total of 2 960 women born in 1966 and belonging to the Northern Finland Birth Cohort.

PCOS is a multidimensional hormonal disorder occurring in approximately 6-18 per cent of women of reproductive age. Regardless of its high incidence, PCOS is relatively unknown and remains underdiagnosed in health care. It is common for PCOS to be diagnosed only during infertility treatments when the syndrome makes it more difficult for women to get pregnant.

Typical for the syndrome is the overproduction of male hormones as well as having polycystic ovaries. PCOS causes symptoms such as excessive hair growth, acne and irregular menstruation. More than half of the women afflicted with PCOS are overweight or obese. The syndrome triples women’s risk of developing type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome. The risk of falling ill with depression and anxiety is up to five times higher.

According to the study, the metabolic and psychological morbidity related to PCOS is strongly present in women’s life all the way to menopause. The study indicated that PCOS impairs women’s quality of life as much or even more than other chronic illnesses, such as asthma, migraine or rheumatoid arthritis.

The most significant factor impairing their health and quality of life is the higher psychological morbidity related to PCOS.

“Our study demonstrated that a poorer quality of life shows also in older women who are close to starting menopause,” Piltonen explains. “We used to think that symptoms related to reproduction and disorders in the menstrual cycle would be mitigated at an older age, but now it looks like metabolic and psychological factors also clearly affect women’s quality of life and health later on.”

In recent years, research and clinical work have paid more attention to the aspects of PCOS which decrease women’s psychological health and quality of life. Based on this research, attention should be paid to the quality of life of women suffering from PCOS even after their reproductive years have long passed.

The study, led by the University of Oulu, was conducted together with the Imperial College London and the University of Helsinki.

Research publication: Salla Karjula, Laure Morin-Papunen, Stephen Franks, Juha Auvinen, Marjo-Riitta Järvelin, Juha S Tapanainen, Jari Jokelainen, Jouko Miettunen, Terhi T Piltonen. Population-based Data at Ages 31 and 46 Show Decreased HRQoL and Life Satisfaction in Women with PCOS Symptoms. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, Volume 105, Issue 6, June 2020, dgz256.

Last updated: 1.12.2021