Diagnosis of hirsutism and PCOS alarmingly subjective

J Obstet Gynaecol Can. 2008 Aug;30(8):671-9.Links

Diagnostic criteria for polycystic ovary syndrome: pitfalls and controversies.

Lujan ME, Chizen DR, Pierson RA.
Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Sciences, College of Medicine, University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon SK.

It is estimated that as many as 1.4 million Canadian women may be afflicted with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).

Although PCOS is heralded as one of the most common endocrine disorders occurring in women, its diagnosis, management, and associated long-term health risks remain controversial.

Historically, the combination of androgen excess and anovulation has been considered the hallmark of PCOS. To date, while these symptoms remain the most prevalent among PCOS patients, neither is considered an absolute requisite for the syndrome.

Inclusion of ultrasonographic evidence of polycystic ovaries as a diagnostic marker has substantially broadened the phenotypic spectrum of PCOS, yet much debate surrounds the validity of these newly identified milder variants of the syndrome.

Difficulty in resolving the spectrum of PCOS stems from the continued use of inconsistent and inaccurate methods of evaluating androgen excess, anovulation, and polycystic ovaries on ultrasound.

At present, there is no clear-cut definition of biochemical hyperandrogenemia, particularly since we depend on poor laboratory standards for measuring androgens in women. Clinical signs of hyperandrogenism are ill-defined in women with PCOS, and the diagnosis of both hirsutism and polycystic ovarian morphology remains alarmingly subjective.

Lastly, there is an inappropriate tendency to assign ovulatory status solely on the basis of menstrual cycle history or poorly timed endocrine measurements.

In this review, we elaborate on these limitations and propose possible resolutions for clinical and research settings. By stimulating awareness of these limitations, we hope to generate a dialogue aimed at solidifying the evaluation of PCOS in Canadian women.