PCOS, which is thought to affect around 22% of pre-menopausal women in Qatar, is a condition that increases the levels of the male hormone testosterone in a woman’s body, which interferes with ovulation and can prevent a woman from becoming pregnant. The condition is also characterised by cysts in the ovaries and increased hair growth, particularly on the face or chest.
The new research by Dr Stephen Atkin, professor of medicine at WCM-Q, found a strong correlation between PCOS and pre-diabetes, which is characterised by raised blood sugar levels and makes the onset of type-2 diabetes likely.
This close association strengthens the belief that healthy lifestyle habits such as eating a balanced diet and taking regular exercise reduce an individual’s risk of developing PCOS, as such behaviours also minimise the risk of developing pre-diabetes.
To conduct the research, Dr Atkin was given access to Qatar Biobank and was able to view the biometric data of 750 anonymous Qatari women between the ages of 18 and 40 years. He said, “More than 10% of the 750 women had pre-diabetes but 19% of the women with polycystic ovary syndrome had pre-diabetes.
“If you have polycystic ovary syndrome, you have more than double the chance of developing pre-diabetes. Polycystic ovary syndrome is also associated with diabetes in pregnancy. In fact, 66% of women with gestational diabetes have polycystic ovary syndrome and this is a problem for both mother and baby.”
Even if women with PCOS don’t develop diabetes, there are concerns the condition can make sufferers more susceptible to developing heart disease earlier and with more severe consequences.
Although there is no cure for PCOS, the condition and its symptoms can be managed, and Dr Atkin runs a clinic at Hamad Medical Corporation specifically for women with PCOS and will shortly open a second at Sidra Medical and Research Center.
Dr Atkin said, “There is a need to alert women about the problem and tell them what can be done in terms of prevention so they don’t develop the complications that occur when they go on to marry or get pregnant, or later on with respect to their overall health. Lifestyle advice is very important. It’s one thing telling young women to eat sensibly and exercise for cosmetic reasons but another if you are telling them it could affect their fertility in later life.”
Dr Atkin has recently been awarded a grant by Qatar National Research Fund for a new study to identify the genetic aspects of PCOS in Qatari families that would allow a more focused approach to the diagnosis and treatment of PCOS for Qatari women.