What is PCOS?
Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) affects 5% of reproductive aged women and is one of the most common reasons for infertility. It is a condition characterized by symptoms that include physical symptoms of hormonal disruption, ovarian cysts, irregular menstruation, obesity, increased hair growth, impaired glucose function, high blood pressure, and acne. Each of these physical manifestations, in turn, can have their own impact on mental health, particularly through self-esteem.
PCOS and mental health risks
Research has shown that women with PCOS have a four-fold increased risk of being diagnosed with major depression. There is also a significantly higher risk of an anxiety disorder, such as generalized anxiety or social phobia, and of eating disorders.
Previous research has linked conditions such as obesity with depression and infertility with depression (See: Infertility and its Emotional Toll). However, the association between PCOS and depression exists even when these other conditions are controlled for.
Scientists have considered different explanations for this, including investigations into the hormonal underpinnings of PCOS and how those relate to the hormonal underpinnings of depression, with a focus on androgen hormones. However, as of yet, there are no definitive explanations.
What you need to be aware of
Because PCOS is a common reason for infertility (which in and of itself is associated with depression) and due to the risk of depression with pregnancy and postpartum, it is important be aware of this information. This way, you will be better equipped to recognize the occurrence of mood symptoms if you have been diagnosed with PCOS.
Another important consideration is the fact that many medications that treat depression or other mental health conditions can impact glucose, weight, or menstruation. Given this association with depression and PCOS, if you have PCOS you might be more likely to be taking an antidepressant or mood stabilizing medication with these potential side effects. Therefore, if you have some of these symptoms, please speak with the doctor prescribing your medication to discuss whether or not these might be side effects that can be better managed.
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Dokras, A. Mood and anxiety disorders in women with PCOS. (2012) Steroids 77: 338-341.
Mansson, M., et. al. Women with polycystic ovary syndrome are often depressed or anxious – A case control study. (2008) Psychoneuroendocrinology 33: 1132-1138.