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A Cause of Female Infertility May Up Heart Risk

Researchers See Link Between PCOS and Metabolic Syndrome
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WebMD Health News

April 6, 2005 -- One of the most common causes of female infertility -- polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) -- may raise the risk of heart disease.

PCOS is a hormone imbalance that interferes with women's normal ovulation. Nearly 2 million U.S. women could be affected, say doctors from the Medical College of Virginia in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism. These women have increased rates of metabolic syndrome, they find.

"These findings support the idea that PCOS should be considered a general health disorder with serious public health implications," they write. They encourage doctors to screen PCOS patients for metabolic syndrome, a cluster of abnormalities that raises the risk of heart disease and diabetes.

Common Problem

The study of 106 women with PCOS showed that 43% also had metabolic syndrome. Metabolic syndrome was twice as common in these women as in women of the same age without PCOS, says the study.

Because PCOS affects up to 10% of the 50 million reproductive-aged women in the United States, if the prevalence of metabolic syndrome in PCOS is approximately 40%, then nearly 2 million women may be affected with both PCOS and the metabolic syndrome, write the researchers.

Symptoms of PCOS

Symptoms of PCOS include:

  • Infertility
  • Eight or fewer menstrual periods in one year
  • High levels of the male sex hormone testosterone
  • Excess of thick hair growth on the face, chest, back, stomach, thumbs, or toes
  • Male pattern baldness
  • Abnormal vaginal bleeding
  • Increased risk of uterine cancer
  • Skin problems such as acne, dandruff, oily skin, and dark skin patches
  • Depression or mood swings

PCOS can start gradually. Many women (but not all) will have numerous small cysts on their ovaries. Some women have other symptoms but do not have evidence of ovarian cysts.

To diagnose PCOS, doctors look at many possible causes of excess and abnormal production of male hormones. Medications and lifestyle adjustments, such as weight loss in overweight women, are usually used to treat the metabolic problems associated with PCOS.

Insulin resistance is the hallmark of PCOS, say the researchers. The body makes insulin to control blood sugar.

About Metabolic Syndrome

Insulin resistance is also linked to metabolic syndrome, which can affect men or women. Patients have at least three of the following traits:

  • Waist size of more than 40 inches in men or 35 inches in women
  • Triglyceride blood levels of 150 or greater
  • HDL ("good") cholesterol less than 40 in men or less than 50 in women
  • Blood pressure of 130/85 or more
  • Fasting blood sugar of 100 or more

 

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