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Understanding the Complex Link Between PCOS and Eating Disorders

  1. Introduction

    1. Definition of PCOS and Eating Disorders: Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, or PCOS, is characterized by a collection of symptoms that indicate elevated levels of androgens and disruptions in ovarian function, with no other underlying medical conditions present

      (Escobar-Morreale, 2018).

      An eating disorder refers to a psychological condition where an individual’s eating habits are abnormal and cause harm to their physical and mental well-being.

    2. Prevalence of PCOS and Eating Disorders: Approximately 22-33% of women without any underlying medical conditions have polycystic ovaries. It is estimated that 1-2% of adolescent and young adult women have bulimia nervosa (having PCOS). Binge-eating disorder, which is considered less severe than bulimia nervosa, is much more prevalent, with an estimated occurrence rate of 26% in the general population

      (K.F.Michelmore, A.H.Balen, & D.B.Dunger, 2001).

    3. The Relationship Between PCOS and Eating Disorders: Several studies have investigated the possible link between Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) and eating disorders, but the findings have been inconsistent.

      A comprehensive meta-analysis of 36 studies that involved 349,529 participants discovered that women with PCOS had 37% more odds of having bulimia nervosa, about 3 times more odds of binge eating, or around 2 times more odds of any eating disorder than those without PCOS. However, no difference was found in the prevalence of anorexia nervosa between the two groups. The study concluded that women with PCOS have a higher risk of developing eating and sleep disorders and experiencing lower sexual satisfaction. As a result, screening for these disorders in women with PCOS may be beneficial in terms of early intervention and improving quality of life

      (Aneesa Thannickal, et al., 2020).

      Another study investigated the prevalence of eating disorders in women with PCOS compared to healthy women. The study found that women with PCOS had a higher prevalence of clinical and subclinical bulimia nervosa compared to healthy women, emphasizing the need for early identification and intervention for eating disorders in women with PCOS.

      (Bernadett M & Szeman-N A, 2016).

      However, a smaller study of 230 young women aged 18-25 did not find a significant association between PCOS and eating disorders. The study used an interview-based eating disorder examination and ultrasound to diagnose PCOS, and only two women were diagnosed with bulimia nervosa and five with binge-eating disorder. While this study suggests that there may not be a strong association between PCOS and eating disorders, further research is needed to confirm these findings.

      (K.F.Michelmore, A.H.Balen, & D.B.Dunger, 2001).

    4. Purpose of the Article: The purpose of the article titled is to examine the potential link between polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) and eating disorders. The article intends to discuss various aspects such as the relationship between the two conditions, the possible risk factors and challenges faced by individuals with both disorders, and the potential treatments available. The article aims to inform and educate readers on this topic and increase awareness and comprehension among those who may be impacted by PCOS and eating disorders.

  2. Overview of PCOS:

    1. Symptoms of PCOS: Symptoms commonly associated with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS):

      (Somia Gul, Syeda Adeeba Zahid, & Almas Ansari, 2014).

    2. Causes of PCOS: Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) is a condition influenced by both genetic and environmental factors. Obesity, brought on by poor diet and lack of exercise, can worsen PCOS in those who are prone to it. The role of environmental factors like infections or toxins is still uncertain. Studies on the genetics of PCOS have faced challenges, but the strongest evidence for a gene related to PCOS is near the insulin receptor gene on chromosome 19p13.3, as it has been identified in multiple studies. However, the exact gene responsible for causing PCOS has not yet been found

      (Evanthia Diamanti-Kandarakis, Helen Kandarakis, & Richard S Legro, 2006).

    3. Diagnosis of PCOS: The diagnosis of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) is usually made through a patient’s medical history, physical examination, and related findings. The main symptoms are hirsutism, excess androgen production, irregular menstrual periods due to chronic anovulation, insulin resistance with high insulin levels, and obesity. The use of ultrasound imaging has also made it easier to diagnose PCOS

      (Chang, 2004).

    4. Treatment Options for PCOS: The treatment of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) depends on the symptoms the patient is experiencing, such as infertility due to ovulatory dysfunction, menstrual disorders, or symptoms related to androgen production. Weight loss can improve the hormonal profile and increase the chances of ovulation and pregnancy. Even a small amount of weight loss, as little as 5% of the original weight, can help normalize menstrual cycles and ovulation. Obesity can be treated with lifestyle changes (diet and exercise) and medical or surgical options. PCOS-related anovulation is caused by low levels of follicle-stimulating hormone and can be treated with medications such as clomiphene citrate, tamoxifen, aromatase inhibitors, metformin, glucocorticoids, or gonadotropins, or through a surgical procedure called laparoscopic ovarian drilling. In vitro fertilization is a last resort option for achieving pregnancy if other methods fail. Chronic anovulation over a long period of time also increases the risk of endometrial hyperplasia and carcinoma, which should be carefully monitored and treated

      (Ahmed Badawy & Abubakar Elnashar, 2011).

  3. Overview of Eating Disorders

    1. Types of Eating Disorders:

    2. Symptoms of Eating Disorders: Individuals who suffer from an eating disorder may not be aware of the cognitive symptoms they have, even though they exist. These symptoms can include limited awareness, downplaying the issue, denial, and the intention to hide it due to shame, social pressure, or a desire to maintain their behaviors

      (Anne E. Becker, Kamryn T. Eddy, & Alexandra Perloe, 2009).

    3. Causes of Eating Disorders: There are a variety of factors that contribute to the development of eating disorders, such as media and peer influences from society, family dynamics like enmeshment and criticism, and emotional factors like negative feelings, low self-worth, and dissatisfaction with one’s body. Additionally, both cognitive and biological aspects play a role in the development of these disorders

      (Janet Polivy & C Peter Herman, 2002).

    4. Diagnosis and Treatment of Eating Disorders: Diagnosis of anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa follows the ICD-10 criteria while that of binge-eating disorder is based on the DSM criteria. The main treatment for all three eating disorders is psychotherapy, with cognitive behavioral therapy being the most effective form. For bulimia nervosa, medication in the form of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) can be considered as an adjunct treatment (Stephan Herpertz, Ulrich Hagenah, & Almut Zeeck, 2011).

  4. The Link Between PCOS and Eating Disorders:

    1. Impact of PCOS on Body Image And Self Esteem: Infertile women with PCOS have lower self-esteem and body satisfaction compared to those without infertility. Additionally, women with hirsutism tend to have lower self-esteem than those without. Women with menstrual irregularities also display higher body dissatisfaction. Body mass index scores, however, are not linked to self-esteem but are associated with lower body satisfaction

      (Fatemeh Bazarganipour, Saeide Ziaei, & Soghrat Faghihzadeh, 2013).

    2. Influence of Hormonal Imbalances On Eating Behavior: Sex hormones play a crucial role in regulating appetite, eating behavior, and energy metabolism and have been linked to various clinical disorders in women. Estrogen has a suppressing effect on food intake, while progesterone and testosterone can have the opposite effect, stimulating appetite. Recently, researchers have been exploring the interaction between sex hormones and neuroendocrine mechanisms in controlling appetite and eating in women. Additionally, there is growing understanding about the role of sex hormones in the development of eating disorders and obesity. For instance, androgens may contribute to the development of bulimia by increasing appetite and reducing impulse control. This theory is supported by evidence showing that anti androgenic treatment can reduce bulimic behavior. Additionally, androgens have been implicated in the pathophysiology of abdominal obesity in women

      (Hirschberg, 2012).

    3. The Role of Stress and Anxiety in the Development of Both PCOS and Eating Disorders: Stress plays a crucial role in Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) and takes many forms, including metabolic, inflammatory, oxidative, and emotional stress. However, metabolic stress is the most distinct type of stress associated with PCOS, as it is apparent from an early age and is the primary cause of the condition’s pathophysiology. The combination of metabolic stress and other types of stress results in serious health problems over the long term, exacerbating the reproductive, metabolic, and psychological disturbances that are already present in the syndrome, creating a vicious cycle of chronic illness.

      Low self-esteem, worry, and parental criticism have been linked with eating disorders but only during times of stress. On the other hand, concern over mistakes has been linked with eating disorders in both stressful and non-stressful circumstances

      (Olga Papalou & Evanthia Diamanti-Kandarakis, 2017).

    4. The Impact of Eating Disorders on PCOS Symptoms and Management: Eating disorders can have a significant impact on women with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). PCOS is a hormonal disorder that affects the menstrual cycle, fertility, and hormone levels, and is associated with obesity and insulin resistance. Women with PCOS are at increased risk for developing eating disorders, and in turn, eating disorders can worsen the symptoms of PCOS. For example, restrictive eating and excessive weight loss can cause irregular menstrual cycles, decreased insulin sensitivity, and decreased levels of sex hormones. This can further disrupt hormonal balance and worsen the symptoms of PCOS. On the other hand, binge eating and weight gain can increase insulin resistance and exacerbate the symptoms of PCOS. Therefore, it is important for women with PCOS to seek treatment for both conditions to improve their overall health and well-being

      (Sandra Sassaroli & Giovanni Maria Ruggiero, 2005)

  5. Conclusion

  1. Summary of Key Points: Eating disorders and PCOS (Polycystic Ovary Syndrome) have a complex relationship. Women with PCOS are more likely to develop eating disorders, and the hormonal imbalances caused by PCOS can exacerbate symptoms of eating disorders. On the other hand, eating disorders can also negatively impact the hormonal balance in women with PCOS, leading to further complications. Psychotherapy, including Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, is the main form of treatment for both PCOS and eating disorders.
  2. The Importance Of Early Recognition And Treatment: Early recognition and treatment is crucial in managing the symptoms of PCOS. Timely intervention can help reduce the long-term health complications associated with the condition, improve fertility, and alleviate the psychological and emotional impact. The earlier treatment begins, the better the chances of achieving positive outcomes.
  3. The Need For A Holistic Approach To Treatment of Eating disorders and PCOS (Polycystic Ovary Syndrome): A holistic approach to treatment in Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) and eating disorders involves addressing the physical, psychological, and emotional aspects of these conditions. This approach considers the whole person, rather than just their symptoms. It integrates various forms of treatment such as lifestyle changes, medications, psychotherapy, and complementary therapies to provide comprehensive care for individuals with PCOS and eating disorders. This approach aims to not only alleviate the symptoms of these conditions but also improve overall health and well-being, and prevent the development of related health problems.
  4. Final Thoughts and Recommendations For Future Research: Future research in this area should focus on exploring the underlying mechanisms behind the relationship between PCOS and eating disorders, as well as developing and testing novel treatment approaches. It is also important to continue to raise awareness about these conditions and the need for early recognition and treatment to improve outcomes for affected individuals.


  • Escobar-Morreale, H. F. (2018). Polycystic ovarian syndrome, definition, aetiology, diagnosis, and treatment. Nature Reviews Endocrinology, 270 – 284.
  • K.F.Michelmore, A.H.Balen, & D.B.Dunger. (2001). Polycystic ovaries and eating disorders: are they related? Human Reproduction , 765 – 769.
  • Somia Gul, Syeda Adeeba Zahid, & Almas Ansari. (2014). PCOS: symptoms and awarness in urban Pakistani women. Int J Pharma Res Health Sci 2, 356 – 60.
  • Evanthia Diamanti-Kandarakis, Helen Kandarakis, & Richard S Legro. (2006). The role of genes and environment in the etiology of PCOS. Endocrine , 19 – 26.
  • Chang, R. J. (2004). A practical approach to the diagnosis of Polycystic ovary Syndrome. American Journal of obsterics and gynecology, 713 – 717.
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  • Stephan Herpertz, Ulrich Hagenah, & Almut Zeeck. (2011). The Diagnosis and Treaatment of Eating Disorders. Deutsches Arzteblatt International, 678.
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  • Hirschberg, A. L. (2012). Sex hormones, apetite and eating beahviour in women. Maturitas, 248 – 256.
  • Olga Papalou, & Evanthia Diamanti-Kandarakis. (2017). The role of stress in PCOS. Expert Review of Endocrinology & Metabolism , 87 – 95.
  • Sandra Sassaroli, & Giovanni Maria Ruggiero. (2005). The role of stress in the association between low self-esteem, perfectionism, and worry, and eating disorders. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 135 – 141.
  • Aneesa Thannickal, Claire Brutocao , Mouaz Alsawas, Allison Morrow, Feras Zaiem, & Muhammad Hassan Murad. (2020). Eating, sleeping and sexual function disorders in women with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS): A systematic review and meta analysis. Clinical Endocrinology, 338 – 349.
  • Bernadett M, & Szeman-N A. (2016). [Prevalence of eating disorders among women with polycystic ovary syndrome]. A Magyar Pszichiatriai Tarsasag Tudomanyos Folyoirata, 136 – 145.
Team PainAssist
Team PainAssist
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Team PainAssist, Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:February 17, 2023

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