March 4, 2024

Women diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome may be at increased risk of attempting suicide, research suggests.

PCOS is a common health condition that is believed to be affected about one in 10 women in the UK, although many cases are undiagnosed.

The condition can cause irregular periods, acne, obesity and ovarian cysts, among other things, with the World Health Organization note PCOS as a leading cause of infertility.

Now a large study by researchers in Taiwan indicates that people diagnosed with the condition have an increased risk of suicide attempts.

Writing in the Annals of Internal Medicine, researchers from Taipei Veterans General Hospital in Taiwan describe how they analyzed nationwide data from 8,960 women and girls aged 12 to 64 diagnosed with PCOS, covering a period from 1997 to 2012. None of those included in the study had a history of suicide attempts.

After taking into account factors including psychiatric disorders, other health conditions and demographics, the team found that those with PCOS had an 8.47 times higher risk of suicide attempts than women without PCOS, but who otherwise had similar characteristics.

When the team broke down the findings by age, they found that the risk of suicide attempts was 5.38 times higher for adolescents, 9.15 times higher for adults under 40 and 3.75 times higher for older adults, compared to controls .

The authors of the study suggest that concerns about the impact of PCOS, including potential infertility and concerns about body image, may be among the factors.

“Body image concerns, including perceived obesity and acne, have been associated with suicide risk during adolescence, and these problems are common among adolescents with PCOS,” they write, adding that young adults may experience additional challenges such as unemployment, financial problems, and relationship problems. .

The decrease in increased risk in older adults, the team suggests, may be linked to an improvement in the symptoms of PCOS with age.

Although the research has limitations, including that it cannot prove cause and effect and cannot take into account all possible factors that could muddy the waters, it is not the first to suggest a link between PCOS and suicide.

Dr Sophie Williams of the University of Derby, who was not involved in the new research, said a number of studies had revealed similar findings in recent years, while her own work had raised concerns around self-harm and suicidal ideation among women with PCOS.

“We know that women with PCOS are more likely to have depression and anxiety – this has been shown time and time again in a number of research papers,” she added.

While Williams said there are a number of possible explanations — including possible differences in parts of the brain that may be associated with PCOS — she emphasized that there are only a handful of studies looking at possible pathways.

“[PCOS] is a very, very under-researched area in general, and mental health within it is even more under-researched,” she said.

However, Williams said that women with PCOS who are experiencing problems should know that they can reach out for help – including through the NHS.

“It’s a very difficult first step to take, but it’s potentially a life-changing step,” she said.

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