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Consider Metabolic Complications with PCOS

Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) is one of the most common endocrine disorders in women of child-bearing age and is often discovered when women seek medical attention for reproductive difficulties or infertility.

Physicians caution that simply addressing immediate fertility issues associated with PCOS isn?t enough for long-term health, and women with this condition should be carefully evaluated for metabolic disorders that may lead to life-long health problems.

PCOS affects up to 10 percent of women in reproductive age and leads to excessive production of androgens (?male? hormones), causing small cysts in the ovaries, irregular menstrual cycles and excessive hair growth in areas that are male-hormone dependent such as the upper lip, chin, chest, upper arm, abdomen and thigh.

Women with this condition often experience problems associated with metabolic syndrome, including:

  • Insulin resistance
  • Elevated blood sugar
  • High cholesterol
  • High blood pressure
  • Increased abdominal fat

Type 2 diabetes occurs at an earlier age and at a higher rate (up to 10%) in women with PCOS because of inherent defects in insulin action and secretion in this condition.

About two out of three women with PCOS have high triglycerides and LDL cholesterol?the bad kind?and low HDL cholesterol.

Metabolic features in PCOS may begin earlier than first menstrual period when reproductive abnormalities first appear, and they may result in long-term cardiovascular consequences even after reproductive features disappear at menopause. If metabolic symptoms aren?t addressed and treated, there can be long-term cardiovascular consequences and diabetic-related complications.

Risks for cardiovascular and metabolic problems can be lowered by lifestyle improvements such as changes in diet and weight loss. Medications targeting insulin resistance can also be used to treat this condition. In some cases involving obese patients, weight-loss surgery has been shown to be effective at reversing metabolic and reproductive problems as well.

This article originally appeared in UC Health Line (02/18/10), a service of the University of Cincinnati Academic Health Center Public Relations Department and was adapted for use on NetWellness with permission.

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