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Greater support needed for women with PCOS

Research 12 Sep 2019
PCOS sept web

Greater support needed for women with PCOS at risk for eating disorders, low self-esteem and psychological distress


Women who have polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) are more likely than women without the condition to experience eating disorders, low self-esteem and psychological distress, an Australian study has shown.

PCOS is a complex hormonal condition that affects more than 10% of non-Indigenous and 20% of Indigenous women of reproductive age in Australia. The condition is often characterised by physical symptoms such as excess body and facial hair, acne, irregular periods and weight gain.

However, there are also many psychological symptoms associated with PCOS including anxiety, depression and poor quality of life.

The study involved 8467 women aged 22-27 years in a sample from the highly regarded Australian Longitudinal Study on Women's Health (ALSWH). This is a government-funded survey that, since 1995, has followed four groups of women representing four generations, across key stages of their lives.

More than 58,000 women around Australia take part in the ALSWH, with each of the four groups surveyed regularly to assess their physical and mental health.

Published in Fertility and Sterility, the new study found that women with PCOS were 60% more likely to have eating disorder than women without PCOS. However, rather than anorexia nervosa or bulimia, women with PCOS have a higher risk of less well-known eating disorders such as binge eating.

Study investigator Dr Chau Tay and Director of Monash Centre for Health Research and Implementation (MCHRI), Professor Helena Teede, say the research reveals key information that may be used to improve the management of PCOS, and highlights the need for greater recognition and support of women with PCOS.

"One in three women with PCOS has low self-esteem, which in turn significantly increases the odds of psychological distress and eating disorders," says Dr Tay. "Improving self-esteem in women with PCOS may potentially reduce their psychological distress and improve their health outcomes.

"Women should be aware of their emotional wellbeing and seek help when needed."

PCOS is a chronic condition that requires a woman having an active role in managing it. Prof Teede believes it is important to educate and empower women with PCOS to promote self-management.

"Women need support and resources in identifying and addressing the features of PCOS that cause them distress," she says.

Prof Teede says the Monash University-developed app, AskPCOS, can help women with PCOS to manage their condition.

"The freely available AskPCOS app is the first mobile app dedicated to PCOS, which provides evidence-based information," she says.

AskPCOS has a range of easy-to-understand information, graphics and expert videos. It is available for download in the App Store.

Find more information on PCOS.