Use of community-based reference ranges to estimate the prevalence of polycystic ovary syndrome by the recognised diagnostic criteria, a cross-sectional study

Marina A. Skiba, Robin J. Bell, Dilinie Herbert, Alejandra Martinez Garcia, Rakibul M. Islam, Susan R. Davis

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STUDY QUESTION: Does the application of reference ranges for sex steroids and the modified Ferriman-Gallwey (mFG) scale established in the community from which the study sample was drawn, combined with the most conservative polycystic ovary morphology (PCOM) criteria to the recognised diagnostic criteria for polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) improve the certainty of diagnosis of PCOS in non-healthcare-seeking women? SUMMARY ANSWER: Despite application of the stringent definitions of the elements used to diagnose PCOS in a non-healthcare seeking community-based sample, the risk of diagnostic uncertainty remains. WHAT IS KNOWN ALREADY: There is heterogeneity in prevalence estimates for PCOS due, in part, to lack of standardisation of the elements comprising the recognised National Institutes of Health (NIH), Rotterdam and Androgen Excess Society (AE-PCOS) diagnostic criteria. The AE-PCOS Society proposed refinements to the definitions of biochemical androgen excess and PCOM that can now be incorporated into these sets of diagnostic criteria to estimate PCOS prevalence. STUDY DESIGN, SIZE, DURATION: An Australian cross-sectional study of 168 non-healthcare-seeking women. PARTICIPANTS/MATERIALS, SETTING, METHODS: The 168 included women were aged 18-39 years, euthyroid and normoprolactinemic, not recently pregnant, breast feeding or using systemic hormones. Each provided menstrual history and assessment of the mFG, had measurement of sex steroids by liquid chromatography, tandem mass spectrometry, and a pelvic ultrasound. The presence of PCOS was determined using modified (m) NIH, Rotterdam, and AE-PCOS criteria according to AE-PCOS Society recommendations. MAIN RESULTS AND THE ROLE OF CHANCE: Overall, 10.1% of the included participants met the mNIH PCOS criteria, which requires the presence of menstrual dysfunction, while 18.5% met the mRotterdam and 17.5% the AE-PCOS criteria, with the latter requiring hyperandrogenism. Eight of the 27 participants with menstrual dysfunction, 10 of 31 women with PCOM, and 39 of 68 women with hyperandrogenism had no other feature of PCOS. Of the 19 participants with hyperandrogenaemia, 10 met the mNIH criteria (52.5%) and 14 met both the mRotterdam and AE-PCOS criteria (78.9%). Women who had the combination of hyperandrogenism and PCOM explained the greatest discrepancy between the mNIH and the other criteria. LIMITATIONS, REASONS FOR CAUTION: Clinical androgenisation relied on participant self-assessment, which has been shown to be valid when compared with clinician assessment. The sample size was a function of both the strict inclusion criteria and the requirements of non-healthcare-seeking women having a blood draw and pelvic ultrasound which may have introduced a selection bias. WIDER IMPLICATIONS OF THE FINDINGS: Despite applying stringent cut-offs for serum androgens, the mFG scale and the ovarian follicle count, these criteria remain arbitrary. Accordingly, healthy women may be captured by these criteria, and misidentified as having PCOS, while women with the condition may be missed. Consequently, PCOS remains a diagnosis to be made with care. STUDY FUNDING/COMPETING INTEREST(S): The study was supported by the Grollo-Ruzzene Foundation. Dr S.R.D. is an NHMRC Senior Principal Research Fellow (Grant no. 1135843). S.R.D. has been paid for developing and delivering educational presentations for Besins Healthcare, BioFemme and Pfizer Australia, has been on Advisory Boards for Theramex, Abbott Laboratories, Mayne Pharmaceuticals and Roche and a consultant to Lawley Pharmaceuticals and Que Oncology and has received has received institutional grant funding for Que Oncology research; there are no other relationships or activities that could appear to have influenced the submitted work.N/A.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1611-1620
Number of pages10
JournalHuman Reproduction
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 17 May 2021


  • amenorrhoea
  • hirsutism
  • hyperandrogenism
  • polycystic ovaries
  • polycystic ovary syndrome

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