Women with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome: A Marginalized Population in the United States

handsw cover croppedThe National Institutes of Health has identified polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) as a major public health problem for women in the United States. PCOS is a set of symptoms due to elevated androgens (male hormones) in females. PCOS is caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors and has no cure. It is the most common endocrine disorder among women between the ages of 18 and 44.

PCOS is characterized by a range of symptoms, such as irregular or absent menstrual periods, hirsutism (excess hair growth on the face and body), weight gain, acne, ovarian cysts, and alopecia (hair loss). PCOS increases a woman’s risk of developing type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, infertility, anxiety, depression, and poor health-related quality of life. PCOS can begin in adolescence and worsen across the life span if untreated or poorly managed.

The NIH recommends establishing multidisciplinary programs to improve the awareness of the public and health care providers regarding management for women with PCOS.

An article in the February 2020 issue of the journal Health & Social Work argues that individuals with PCOS are marginalized due to:

  • the syndrome’s misleading name;
  • its underrepresentation in research;
  • lack of culturally and gender-sensitive standards of care;
  • debates about the contraceptive mandate; and
  • stigmatization due to symptoms that do not conform to dominant social constructs of beauty, femininity, and womanhood.

In the article, the author, Dr. Ninive Sanchez, directs readers to key publications on the assessment and treatment of patients with PCOS. She discusses a case study that illustrates the role of a social worker in treating an adolescent with PCOS as part of a multidisciplinary team and emphasizes the importance of integrating behavioral health in the treatment of patients with PCOS.

Ninive Sanchez, PhD, is assistant professor, School of Social Work, University of Missouri, Columbia, MO; e-mail: sanchezni@missouri.edu.

 

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