Women with a history of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) are more likely to experience somatic and urogenital symptoms post menopause, but they were no more likely to experience severe hot flashes than were other women with similar characteristics, according to research presented Sept. 24 at the hybrid annual meeting of the North American Menopause Society.
PCOS and vasomotor symptoms are each risk factors for cardiovascular disease, so researchers wanted to find out whether they were linked to one another, which might indicate that they are markers for the same underlying mechanisms that increase heart disease risk. The lack of an association, however, raises questions about how much each of these conditions might independently increase cardiovascular risk.
“Should we take a little more time to truly risk-assess these patients not just with their ASCVD risk score, but take into account that they have PCOS and they’re going through menopause, and how severe their hot flashes are?” asked Angie S. Lobo, MD, an internal medicine specialist at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., when she discussed her findings in an interview.
The association between PCOS and urogenital symptoms was surprising, Dr. Lobo said, but she said she suspects the reason for the finding may be the self-reported nature of the study.
“If you ask the question, you get the answer,” Dr. Lobo said. ”Are we just not asking the right questions to our patients? And should we be doing this more often? This is an exciting finding because there’s so much room to improve the clinical care of our patients.”
The researchers analyzed data from 3,308 women, ages 45-60, in a cross-sectional study from the Data Registry on the Experiences of Aging, Menopause, and Sexuality (DREAMS). The study occurred at Mayo Clinic locations between May 2015 and December 2019 in Rochester, Minn., in Scottsdale, Ariz., and in Jacksonville, Fla.
The women were an average 53 years old and were primarily White, educated, and postmenopausal. Among the 4.6% of women with a self-reported history of PCOS, 56% of them reported depression symptoms, compared to 42% of women without PCOS. Those with PCOS also had nearly twice the prevalence of obesity – 42% versus 22.5% among women without PCOS – and had a higher average overall score on the Menopause Rating Scale (17.7 vs. 14.7; P < .001).
Although women with PCOS initially had a greater burden of psychological symptoms on the same scale, that association disappeared after adjustment for menopause status, body mass index, depression, anxiety, and current use of hormone therapy. Even after adjustment, however, women with PCOS had higher average scores for somatic symptoms (6.7 vs. 5.6) and urogenital symptoms (5.2 vs. 4.3) than those of women without PCOS (P < .001).
Severe or very severe hot flashes were no more likely in women with a history of PCOS than in the other women in the study.
”The mechanisms underlying the correlation between PCOS and menopause symptoms in the psychological and urogenital symptom domains requires further study, although the well-known association between PCOS and mood disorders may explain the high psychological symptom burden in these women during the menopause transition,” the authors concluded.
Rachael B. Smith, DO, clinical assistant professor of ob.gyn. at the University of Arizona in Phoenix, said she was not surprised to see an association between PCOS and menopause symptoms overall, but she was surprised that PCOS did not correlate with severity of vasomotor symptoms. But Dr. Smith pointed out that the sample size of women with PCOS is fairly small (n = 151).
“Given that PCOS prevalence is about 6%-10%, I feel this association should be further studied to improve our counseling and treatment for this PCOS population,” Dr. Smith, who was not involved in the research, said in an interview. “The take-home message for physicians is improved patient-tailored counseling that takes into account patients’ prior medical history of PCOS.”
Although it will require more research to find out, Dr. Smith said she suspects that PCOS and vasomotor symptoms are additive risk factors for cardiovascular disease. She also noted that the study is limited by the homogeneity of the study population.
The research was funded by the National Institutes of Health. Dr. Lobo and Dr. Smith had no disclosures.