The impact of self-reported oligo-amenorrhea and hirsutism on fertility and lifetime reproductive success: results from the Northern Finland Birth Cohort 1966

S West, M Vähäsarja, A Bloigu, A Pouta, S Franks, A-L Hartikainen, M-R Järvelin, S Corbett, M Vääräsmäki, L Morin-Papunen
Human Reproduction 2014, 29 (3): 628-33

STUDY QUESTION: To what extent do self-reported oligo-amenorrhea and hirsutism affect reproductive performance (childlessness, age at first delivery, family size and miscarriage rates)?

SUMMARY ANSWER: At the age of 44, among women with both self-reported oligo-amenorrhea and hirsutism the prevalence of childlessness was not significantly different from non-symptomatic women but they had a smaller family size than non-symptomatic women.

WHAT IS KNOWN ALREADY: Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a common endocrine disorder characterized by oligo-amenorrhea or amenorrhea, hyperandrogenism and hirsutism and it is the most frequent cause of anovulatory infertility, but there are few studies on the reproductive capacity of women with PCOS. In our previous population-based cohort study the women with self-reported oligo-amenorrhea and hirsutism were found to have more infertility problems and smaller family size than non-symptomatic women at the age of 31.

STUDY DESIGN, SIZE, DURATION: A prospective population-based cohort study. The population of the study is derived from the prospective Northern Finland Birth Cohort 1966 (NFBC1966), comprising all expected births from the year 1966 in the two northernmost provinces of Finland (n = 12 058). Of them, 5889 were females. Enrollment in this database begun at the 24th gestational week and so far data have been collected from the subjects at the ages of 1, 14 and 31 years.

PARTICIPANTS/MATERIALS, SETTING, METHODS: A postal questionnaire including questions about oligo-amenorrhea and hirsutism was sent to all women at the age of 31 (n = 5608, response rate 81%, n = 4535) and a clinical examination was performed (attendance rate 76.5%). Those who reported both hirsutism and oligo-amenorrhea were defined as women with both symptoms (n = 153). Data on pregnancies/deliveries were obtained from the Finnish Medical Birth Register (FMBR) in 2010 when the women were 44 years old.

MAIN RESULTS AND THE ROLE OF CHANCE: Women with both symptoms had delivered at least one child as often as non-symptomatic women [75.2 versus 79.0%, adjusted odds ratio (OR) 0.86, 95% confidence intervals (CI) 0.57-1.30], were of similar age [mean (SD)] at first delivery [27.7 (4.81) versus 27.3 (4.71)] and had similar incidence of miscarriages. However, non-symptomatic women had more often ≥2 deliveries (61.6 versus 52.9%, adjusted OR 0.70, 95% CI 0.49-1.00, P = 0.048) and had larger family size [mean (SD)] [2.4 (1.4) versus 1.9 (0.8), P < 0.001]. Women with both symptoms had been treated more often for infertility than non-symptomatic women (6.1 versus 2.4%, adjusted OR 2.74, 95% CI 1.14-6.60, P = 0.024).

LIMITATIONS, REASONS FOR CAUTION: The diagnosis of oligo-amenorrhea and hirsutism was based on a questionnaire, suggesting a risk of information bias in reporting the symptoms. However, we have previously shown that self-reported oligo-amenorrhea and hirsutism can distinguish most women with the typical profile of PCOS. Only the women who had delivered at least once were recorded in the FMBR, thus excluding from the study those who had experienced miscarriages and/or infertility treatments but did not have a live birth. This feature could potentially decrease the differences in incidence of miscarriages and/or infertility treatment between symptomatic and non-symptomatic subjects.

WIDER IMPLICATIONS OF THE FINDINGS: This is one of the few studies, in which the impact of self-reported oligo-amenorrhea and hirsutism on lifetime reproductive success can be measured. Our results suggest that even at more advanced age, women with both symptoms do not quite match the parity of healthy non-symptomatic women, and that infertility treatment does not always restore normal reproductive capacity in these women. Obese women with both symptoms had the worst prognostic as regards reproduction, which emphasizes the importance of life intervention and preventive politics against obesity in this group of women.

STUDY FUNDING/COMPETING INTEREST(S): This work was supported by grants from the Finnish Medical Society Duodecim, the North Ostrobothnia Regional Fund, the Academy of Finland, University Hospital Oulu, Biocenter, University of Oulu, Finland, the European Commission and the Medical Research Council, UK, the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR). None of the authors has any conflict of interest to declare.

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