Changes in the PCOS phenotype with age.Steroids 2013; 78(8):761-6S
Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) is the most common endocrine disorder of reproductive-age women. The diagnosis of PCOS is mainly based on the following three components: (1) hyperandrogenism, (2) oligo-amenorrhea, and (3) the observation of polycystic ovaries on a sonogram. The comorbidities may include insulin resistance, type II diabetes mellitus, hypertension and cardiovascular disease. Importantly, the diagnostic criteria and complications related to PCOS are age-dependent. Androgen production in women may decrease because of ovarian aging or decreased production by the adrenal glands over time. The prevalence of hirsutism and acne decreases with age. Ovarian volume and follicle number also decrease with age, with the age-related decrease in follicle number seemingly greater than that of ovarian volume. Aging may also be associated with increased risk of insulin resistance and metabolic disturbances. Therefore, these age-related changes may affect the observed incidence and complications of PCOS. In adolescent patients, the criteria described above pose particular diagnostic problems because the characteristics of normal puberty often overlap with the signs and symptoms of PCOS. Hyperandrogenism and chronic anovulation are the primary disturbances in younger women with PCOS; whereas, obesity, insulin resistance, and metabolic disturbances are predominant in older women with PCOS. The deterioration of insulin resistance during the reproductive life of women with PCOS appears to be mainly attributable to the increase in obesity. Therefore, if body weight could be controlled properly, younger hyperandrogenic PCOS women might reduce their risk of insulin resistance and metabolic disturbances later in life.