Polycystic ovary syndrome–a systemic disorder?

Best Pract Res Clin Obstet Gynaecol. 2003 Apr;17(2):263-74

Balen A, Rajkowha M.

The General Infirmary, Claredon wing, Leeds LS2 9NS, UK. adam.balen@leedsth.nhs.uk

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is the commonest endocrine disturbance affecting women. There is considerable heterogeneity of symptoms and signs amongst women with PCOS and for an individual these may change over time. PCOS is familial and genetics appear to be associated with disturbances of insulin secretion. Polycystic ovaries can exist without clinical signs of the syndrome, which may then become expressed over time. There are a number of interlinking factors that affect expression of PCOS. A gain in weight is associated with a worsening of symptoms whilst weight loss will ameliorate the endocrine and metabolic profile and symptomatology. Women with PCOS are characterized by the presence of insulin resistance, central obesity and dyslipidaemia, which appears to place them at a higher risk of developing diabetes as well as cardiovascular disease. A number of studies have confirmed the higher incidence of diabetes, although they have not shown a higher risk of mortality from ischaemic heart disease (IHD). Cross-sectional studies have demonstrated a significant association between PCOS and IHD. Prospective, long-term longitudinal studies confirming this risk are still awaited. Weight loss remains the most effective first line therapeutic intervention in women with PCOS and recently the use of insulin sensitizing agents has demonstrated benefit.