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Open Access Highly Accessed Review

Polycystic ovary syndrome: a complex condition with psychological, reproductive and metabolic manifestations that impacts on health across the lifespan

H Teede12, A Deeks1 and L Moran1*

Author Affiliations

1 Jean Hailes Clinical Research Unit, School of Public Health and Preventive Medicine, Monash University, Clayton, Australia

2 Diabetes Unit, Southern Health, Clayton, Australia

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BMC Medicine 2010, 8:41  doi:10.1186/1741-7015-8-41

Published: 30 June 2010

Abstract

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is of clinical and public health importance as it is very common, affecting up to one in five women of reproductive age. It has significant and diverse clinical implications including reproductive (infertility, hyperandrogenism, hirsutism), metabolic (insulin resistance, impaired glucose tolerance, type 2 diabetes mellitus, adverse cardiovascular risk profiles) and psychological features (increased anxiety, depression and worsened quality of life). Polycystic ovary syndrome is a heterogeneous condition and, as such, clinical and research agendas are broad and involve many disciplines. The phenotype varies widely depending on life stage, genotype, ethnicity and environmental factors including lifestyle and bodyweight. Importantly, PCOS has unique interactions with the ever increasing obesity prevalence worldwide as obesity-induced insulin resistance significantly exacerbates all the features of PCOS. Furthermore, it has clinical implications across the lifespan and is relevant to related family members with an increased risk for metabolic conditions reported in first-degree relatives. Therapy should focus on both the short and long-term reproductive, metabolic and psychological features. Given the aetiological role of insulin resistance and the impact of obesity on both hyperinsulinaemia and hyperandrogenism, multidisciplinary lifestyle improvement aimed at normalising insulin resistance, improving androgen status and aiding weight management is recognised as a crucial initial treatment strategy. Modest weight loss of 5% to 10% of initial body weight has been demonstrated to improve many of the features of PCOS. Management should focus on support, education, addressing psychological factors and strongly emphasising healthy lifestyle with targeted medical therapy as required. Monitoring and management of long-term metabolic complications is also an important part of routine clinical care. Comprehensive evidence-based guidelines are needed to aid early diagnosis, appropriate investigation, regular screening and treatment of this common condition. Whilst reproductive features of PCOS are well recognised and are covered here, this review focuses primarily on the less appreciated cardiometabolic and psychological features of PCOS.