Women with polycystic ovary syndrome may have more memory and thinking problems in middle age, according to new research. The study, published in the online issue of Neurology, does not prove that polycystic ovary syndrome causes cognitive decline. It shows only one association.
Polycystic ovary syndrome is a hormonal disorder defined by irregular periods and high levels of hormones called androgens. Other symptoms can include excess hair growth, acne, infertility and poor metabolic health.
It is a common reproductive disorder that affects up to 10 percent of women. Although it has been linked to metabolic diseases like obesity and diabetes that can lead to heart problems, less is known about how the condition affects brain health.
“Our results suggest that people with this condition have poor memory and thinking skills, and subtle brain changes in midlife. This can affect a person on many levels, including quality of life, career success and financial security,” said Heather G. Huddleston. University of California, San Francisco.
The study involved 907 female participants who were between the ages of 18 and 30 at the start of the study. They were followed for 30 years, during which time they completed tests to measure memory, verbal ability, processing speed and attention.
At the time of testing, 66 participants had polycystic ovary syndrome. The results showed that people with polycystic ovary syndrome had an average score that was about 11 percent lower than people without the condition.
Furthermore, they had lower scores on three of the five tests that were given, particularly in memory, attention and verbal ability, when compared to those without the condition. During years 25 and 30 of the study, a small group of 291 participants had brain scans. Of these, 25 had polycystic ovary syndrome and had low white matter integrity, which may indicate early evidence of brain aging.
“Additional research is needed to confirm these findings and to determine how this change occurs, including looking at changes in how people can reduce their thinking and memory problems,” Huddleston said. “Changes such as incorporating more cardiovascular exercise and improving mental health may improve brain aging in this population.”