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8 April 2013
Obesity-PCOS link may be overstated

The relationship between obesity and polycystic ovary syndrome may be exaggerated, likely because the women who actively seek care for the condition tend to be heavier than those identified through screening of the general population, researchers report.

The relationship between obesity and polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) may be overstated, suggests a new report in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism. The new research looked at what have long been considered indicators of the disease, including obesity, high testosterone levels and excess body hair, in women actively seeking care for PCOS as well as those identified with PCOS through a general pre-employment health screening.

Women with PCOS identified through the screening had about the same obesity rates as those who didn't have PCOS, noted study co-author Dr. Ricardo Azziz, from Georgia Regents University (pictured). However, he added, obesity rates in patients actively seeking treatment were about 2.5 times higher than in women identified with PCOS through the screening of the general population.

"The women actively seeking care had higher male hormones, more hair growth, more severe ovulation problems, which was not surprising because patients who have a more severe condition are more apt to seek medical care," said Azziz. "What is surprising to us is that the rate of obesity in women with PCOS who we found in the general population is nowhere near as high as we expected from studying women with PCOS who did seek care."

According to Azziz, the finding indicates that while obesity is a major problem for everyone who has it, "we should treat obesity as obesity and probably not try to link obesity as a sign of PCOS."

He notes that obesity has been considered a hallmark of the condition since it was first described in 1932 and that the ongoing association likely is perpetuated by a bias resulting from patients who self-refer for care.

"A more accurate picture of PCOS likely would emerge if studies of the condition also included patients identified through screening the general population," Azziz said. "A lot of patients believe PCOS leads to obesity and we really don't have strong data to support that. In fact, our evidence suggests that is not the case."

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Source: Medical College of Georgia at Georgia Regents University

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