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What to know about PCOS and the newfound link to cognitive decline

Recent research suggests a potential association between polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) and cognitive decline in later life.

PCOS, the most common endocrine disorder among women aged 15 to 44, is often underdiagnosed due to overlapping symptoms with other conditions. It was first identified in 1935 by gynecologists Irving F. Stein and Michael L. Leventhal, who described symptoms such as irregular menstrual cycles, excess hair growth, and enlarged ovaries with multiple cysts.

While the exact causes of PCOS remain unclear, genetic factors are believed to play a role in its development. PCOS is characterized by elevated levels of androgens, or male hormones, which can disrupt menstrual cycles and fertility in women.

In the United States, an estimated 6 to 12 percent of individuals assigned female at birth who are of reproductive age are affected by PCOS. The condition is associated with various health risks, including obesity, hypertension, hyperlipidemia, and endometrial cancer. Additionally, PCOS increases the risk of metabolic complications such as insulin resistance, which can lead to elevated blood sugar levels and an increased risk of Type 2 diabetes.

A recent study analyzing data from the CARDIA Women’s study found that women with PCOS scored, on average, 11 percent lower on cognitive function assessments compared to those without the disorder. Lead author Heather Huddleston emphasized the importance of prioritizing brain health in light of these findings.

Managing PCOS typically involves lifestyle modifications such as dietary changes and regular exercise, along with medication such as oral contraceptives or antiandrogens to alleviate symptoms. While PCOS cannot be cured, its symptoms can be managed effectively with appropriate treatment.

Diagnosing PCOS involves a clinical evaluation, pelvic ultrasound to assess ovarian morphology, and hormonal profiling. Symptoms suggestive of PCOS include irregular menstruation, acne, and central adiposity.

For individuals dealing with PCOS, seeking comprehensive medical care from providers who specialize in managing the condition is essential.

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