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Women with PCOS at Higher Risk of COVID-19? Here’s What you Should Watch Out For

Dr Ila Gupta and Dr Danny Laliwalla, Senior IVF Consultants, help understand the correlation between PCOS and COVID-19.

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This article is a part of a series by The Better India to share verified information about COVID-19 care. While several posts on various aspects of fighting COVID-19 are being circulated on social media and messaging services like WhatsApp, we urge you not to trust unverified content. To separate fact from fiction, we will be sharing the videos and content with doctors and experts and bring you their responses with scientific research-backed information.

It has been estimated that one in five Indian women suffer from polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). While the cause for this disease is unknown, symptoms may include menstrual irregularity, excess hair growth, acne and obesity.

A study published in the European Journal of Endocrinology states that women with PCOS have an increased risk of cardio-metabolic disease, which has been identified as a risk factor for COVID-19.

Dr Ila Gupta, Senior IVF Consultant and Clinical Director at Ferticity Fertility Clinics, Delhi, and Dr Danny Laliwalla, Senior Consultant of IVF, Obstetrics, and Gynaecology at Jaslok Hospital and Research Centre, Mumbai, Maharashtra, shed light on some pertinent questions related to PCOS and COVID-19.

1. Is there a correlation between PCOS and COVID-19?

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Dr Laliwalla: While one may not think of the correlation between these two diseases, it has been found that women who suffer from PCOS have a 52 per cent higher chance of contracting COVID-19 as compared to others. The primary reason for this is that PCOS is a metabolic disease, which can lead to cardiovascular complications, diabetes, hypertension and obesity. These high-risk factors make women with PCOS more susceptible to the coronavirus.

Women who have PCOS with a low Vitamin D level are more prone to COVID-19 infections.

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2. Should PCOS also be considered a comorbidity in COVID positive patients?

Dr Gupta: If a patient has just been diagnosed with PCOS then it cannot be considered a comorbidity. PCOS patients may present with mild to severe symptoms.

However, obese (over weight) PCOS patients or those associated with metabolic complications such as diabetes, high blood pressure, cholesterol disorder or liver disorder are at a higher risk.

Therefore, dealing with COVID-19 in a PCOS patient with allied complications can be considered as a comorbidity.

3. Can the complications associated with PCOS lead to severe COVID-19 symptoms? And what is the treatment for PCOS and COVID-19?

Dr Gupta: Obesity with uncontrolled diabetes, hypertension coupled with other PCOS associated complications can increase the severity of COVID-19.

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Dr Laliwalla: It is not very difficult to control both PCOS and COVID-19, given that both require management of lifestyle. Being obese, having hypertension or having some cardiovascular issues need prompt and immediate attention to ensure that the severity of PCOS and COVID-19 is controlled. Uncontrolled complications arising due to PCOS can lead to COVID positive patients needing oxygen support or even the ventilator.

The key is to control the symptoms which accompany PCOS and work on weight management.

4. Can COVID-19 trigger the onset of PCOS in women?

Dr Gupta: At present, we do not have much data or studies to prove that COVID-19 can trigger the onset of PCOS. However, any stressful situation, fear, anxiety, apprehension, lack of physical activity and eating habits associated with COVID-19 and the lockdown can cause a hormonal disturbance and thereby lead to the occurrence of PCOS.

5. What are the precautions to follow to avoid the worsening of PCOS?

Dr Laliwalla: Changes to your lifestyle is the key to PCOS management. While the lockdown has thrown many people away from their routine, one cannot indulge in a sedentary lifestyle and expect PCOS to be in control. Walk for at least 1 hour each day. This can be broken up into half-hour slots. Exercise and yoga must also feature in your daily routine to ensure you keep your weight under control. You must be mindful about what you eat and try to eat healthy as much as possible.

Refrain from indulging in sweets, fried foods, or anything high in carbohydrates. You need to control your diet and exercise routine.

6. Does being affected by both, PCOS and the coronavirus, impact fertility in women?

Dr Laliwalla: There is not enough conclusive data to state a definite answer. However, if one is COVID positive, it should not impact their fertility. PCOS, on the other hand, is a condition that impacts the menstrual cycle, which can impact fertility. So, to control PCOS side effects we must control one’s weight.

(Edited by Ananya Barua)

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