There Could Be a Link Between Polycystic Ovary Syndrome And Eating Disorders

Illustration by Marina Esmeraldo.
Women with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), a common fertility problem that affects up to one in five women in the UK, are far more likely to have eating disorders than their peers, according to a new study. The research found women with PCOS were nearly six times more likely to have an eating disorder than those without the condition.

PCOS affects how a woman's ovaries work
and can involve irregular periods due to a lack of ovulation, high levels of male sex hormones and harmless follicles that surround the eggs. Another sign or symptom of PCOS is weight gain or an inability to lose weight, but it's not clear whether problems with weight are a cause or effect of the condition. Scientists from the University of Pennsylvania studied 121 women with PCOS and 57 women without. They filled out questionnaires on eating disorders, night eating, depression and anxiety. Those with PCOS also filled out a questionnaire about their quality of life. The average woman with the condition was obese, with a BMI of 33.6, compared with an average BMI of 25.4 among the women without the condition.

The NHS defines
a "healthy" BMI as between 18.5 to 24.9, while a BMI of between 25 and 29.9 is classed as "overweight" and between 90 and 39.9 as "obese". The women with PCOS were nearly six times more likely to have an eating disorder, even when their weight was accounted for. Furthermore, the study found they were three times more likely to have anxiety or depression. The researchers will present their findings at the scientific congress of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) in Utah this week. Owen Davis, president of the ASRM, said: “Women with PCOS experience a large set of painful, discouraging, and uncomfortable manifestations of the syndrome." Davis added that women with PCOS could benefit from screening for eating disorders, anxiety and depression. He also said the results of another study, suggesting stomach surgery could be beneficial for PCOS sufferers in severe cases, were encouraging.

More from Wellness

R29 Original Series