PCOS should be recognized as COVID-19 risk factor, experts say


Little research has been done on whether polycystic ovary syndrome is tied to a higher risk of COVID-19 infection. Now, some experts are calling for the condition to be recognized as a risk factor for COVID-19, CNN reported May 23. 

Between 5 percent and 10 percent of U.S. women of childbearing age have PCOS, a hormonal imbalance that can cause irregular menstrual cycles, high androgen levels and ovarian cysts. According to the CDC, more than half of women with PCOS develop type 2 diabetes by age 40, are often insulin resistant, and have a higher risk of heart disease and high blood pressure — all of which have been linked to a higher risk for becoming severely ill from a COVID-19 infection. 

"My advice would be to include women with PCOS as … potentially a high-risk group," said Katherine Sherif, MD, chief of women's health at Jefferson University's department of medicine. "We're working in a very large system that is full of silos. Nobody's going to jump and say, 'Oh, well, don't forget about PCOS,'" she told CNN

PCOS has long been dismissed as a women's health issue, which is part of the reason it's largely been overlooked when it comes to COVID-19, experts told CNN

Dr. Wiebke Arlt, director of the Institute of Metabolism and Systems Research at the University of Birmingham in the U.K., says the disorder goes beyond the ovary and considers it a "lifelong metabolic disease." 

"The higher the metabolic risk is, the higher the risk is to catch COVID-19," Dr. Arlt told CNN. "People looked at obesity and type 2 diabetes and hypertension and heart disease, but they have not looked at PCOS systematically before we did. Because they just don't consider this a metabolic risk factor. That's something we would like to change." 

A study conducted by Dr. Arlt and others found women with PCOS had a 51 percent higher chance of confirmed or suspected COVID-19 infection than those without. The research involved more than 21,000 women with PCOS and a matched control group of more than 78,000. After taking into account other underlying risk factors such as type 2 diabetes, PCOS was still linked to a 28 percent increased COVID-19 risk. 

"It gave us more confidence … that it's not just about the risk factors associated with PCOS, but something in it is actually driving this," Anuradhaa Subramanian, the study's lead author, told CNN

More research is needed to confirm whether PCOS is associated with a higher risk for severe COVID-19 or long-term symptoms, experts say.


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