Polycystic ovary syndrome: poorly understood

Author: Jo Carlowe

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is poorly understood and treated, new research finds.

In a paper*, published today in the British Journal of General Practice, it is found that patients with PCOS seldom get the advice and support that they need.

PCOS is very common – the NHS website suggests that up to one in every five women in the UK may be affected.

As well as leading to infertility and miscarriages, PCOS is also associated with diabetes, hirsutism, acne, mental health problems and an increased risk of fatty liver disease and of the potentially pre-cancerous condition endometrial hyperplasia.

Sarah Hillman and colleagues at the University of Warwick studied over 300 women with PCOS, by questionnaires and interviews. The researchers found that after diagnosis, important issues such as mental health problems and serious associated co-morbidities were seldom discussed, and advice on weight loss was often not provided.

Women from ethnic minority groups were even less likely to discuss their mental health problems with their GP, the authors found.

The authors emphasise that PCOS should be better understood as a chronic, multisystem disorder, with significant health implications.

Lead author, Sarah Hillman, NIHR clinical lecturer in primary care said: “Our research shows that PCOS is not being viewed in primary care as a multi-systemic metabolic condition, the effects of which span a woman’s lifetime.

“We need to work with women to establish a timely diagnosis, provide treatment and support and reduce the risks of long-term conditions.”

*Hillman SC, Bryce C, Caleychetty R, et al. Women’s experiences of diagnosis and management of polycystic ovary syndrome: a mixed-methods study in general practice. British Journal of General Practice 9 March 2020; bjgp20X708881.