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Common Gynecologic Condition Tied to Cognitive Issues
  • Posted February 1, 2024

Common Gynecologic Condition Tied to Cognitive Issues

Women with a common ovarian disorder might be more likely to have memory and thinking problems in middle age, a new study suggests.

Females diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) scored lower on cognitive tests than women without the condition, according to a report published Jan. 31 in the journal Neurology.

The condition specifically appeared to affect memory, attention and verbal abilities, researchers said.

"Polycystic ovary syndrome is a common reproductive disorder that impacts up to 10% of women,"said researcher Dr. Heather Huddleston, director of the PCOS Clinic at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF).

"Our results suggest that people with this condition have lower memory and thinking skills and subtle brain changes at midlife,"Huddleston said in a UCSF news release. "This could impact a person on many levels, including quality of life, career success and financial security."

Polycystic ovary syndrome is a hormonal disorder in which the ovaries produce an abnormally high amount of androgens, which are male sex hormones.

The condition causes irregular menstruation, as well as excess body hair, weight gain, acne, infertility and thinning hair. Some women with PCOS wind up with ovarian cysts, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine.

For the study, researchers tracked more than 900 women between the ages of 18 and 30 for three decades, at which time they completed a series of cognitive tests.

For example, a test measuring attention asked participants to look at a list of words in different colors and state the color of the ink rather than the actual word -- for example, responding "red"when seeing the word "blue"printed in red ink.

In that test, women with polycystic ovary syndrome scored about 11% lower than other women, results show.

To suss out the potential cause, researchers looked at brain scans taken of about 300 participants at years 25 and 30 of the study, 25 of whom had PCOS.

Women with polycystic ovary syndrome had lower integrity in their white matter, the tissue that forms connections between different regions of the brain. This could be early evidence of brain aging, the investigators said.

"Additional research is needed to confirm these findings and to determine how this change occurs, including looking at changes that people can make to reduce their chances of thinking and memory problems,"Huddleston said. "Making changes like incorporating more cardiovascular exercise and improving mental health may serve to also improve brain aging for this population."

More information

Johns Hopkins Medicine has more about polycystic ovary syndrome.

SOURCE: American Academy of Neurology, news release, Jan. 31, 2024

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