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New studies confirm PCOS heart and diabetes risk

Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) identified as cardiovascular and diabetes risk factor
WebMD UK Health News
Medically Reviewed by Dr Keith David Barnard

20th March 2012 - Two new studies, presented this week at the Society for Endocrinology annual meeting in Harrogate, confirm that women diagnosed with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) are more likely to develop cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

Whilst the studies don’t show the root cause of this association, the confirmation of PCOS as a risk factor is useful because both serious health risks can often be reduced by lifestyle interventions.


PCOS occurs when the ovaries produce excessive amounts of the male hormone testosterone.

The syndrome is estimated to affect five to 10% of women of reproductive age. The 'cysts' in polycystic ovaries are not harmful in themselves and do not require surgical removal. However, they can cause menstrual problems (often with associated infertility), abnormal hair growth, acne and weight gain.

Cardiovascular risk

In the first study, researchers led by consultant endocrinologist Dr Trevor Howlett, analysed data on cardiovascular events in women with PCOS who attended Leicestershire’s main endocrine (hormone) clinics over 20 years and compared this with data on the local background female population.

They found that cardiovascular disease occurred significantly more frequently in women with PCOS aged 45 or older. The prevalence of heart attack was 1.9%, and of angina 2.5% in women aged 45-54 with PCOS, whereas in age-matched controls the figures were 0.2% and 0.8%, and remained significantly higher for heart attack in women over 55.

Dr Howlett, from University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust, said in a media release: "Our study clearly shows that a simple diagnosis of PCOS is associated with an increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease many years later, with cardiovascular events occurring almost 10 times more frequently in some age groups.

"The precise mechanism which results in this increased risk remains uncertain, but this information certainly highlights the need to consider cardiovascular risk in women with this common condition, and to prompt lifestyle changes, such as eating a healthy diet, maintaining a healthy weight, and stopping smoking, which have been proven to reduce the overall risk of cardiovascular disease."

Diabetes risk

In the second study researchers led by Dr Aled Rees from Cardiff University, selected 21,734 young women (average age 27 years) with PCOS and matched them to 86,936 controls. Patients were divided into two sets. The first set was matched according to primary care practice and age, and the second were additionally matched by body mass index ( BMI). In the first group they found that women with PCOS were three times more likely to develop type 2 diabetes. In the second group the additional risk of developing diabetes dropped to 1.785. What this suggests is that in the second group, where obese women with PCOS were matched with normal obese women, the overweight normal subjects fared much better than those with PCOS.

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