More than one year into the COVID-19 pandemic, we're still learning how the virus affects patients.
Doctors quickly realized that certain health conditions were linked to a higher risk of COVID-19, as well as worse outcomes. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a full list of every high-risk condition identified so far, including cancer, chronic lung or kidney disease, obesity, and pregnancy.
But new research suggests there's another condition that can drastically impact your chance of getting COVID-19: polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS).
A new paper published in the European Society of Endocrinology found that women with PCOS are at a higher risk for the virus compared to other women in their age group, even when otherwise young and healthy.
The Mayo Clinic describes PCOS as a hormonal disorder, common among women of reproductive age. Symptoms often include irregular periods, excess androgen, and polycystic ovaries. It affects as many as five million American women each year, according to the CDC.
Women with PCOS have an increased risk of type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and liver disease, which have all been identified as risk factors for COVID-19.
Researchers from the University of Birmingham examined the health outcomes of COVID-19 patients during the first wave period of the pandemic in the UK. They found that a diagnosis of PCOS was linked to a 51% increased risk of contracting COVID-19.
Even after they adjusted their analysis to account for risk factors like age and BMI, women with PCOS were found to be 28% more likely to be diagnosed with COVID-19.
The study's authors say their research shows that women with PCOS have been "overlooked" as a potentially high-risk population for contracting COVID-19.
"PCOS is completely underestimated in its impact," said Dr. Wiebke Arlt, director of the Institute of Metabolism and Systems Research at the University of Birmingham in the United Kingdom. "It's sort of seen as some reproductive issue that is not clinically relevant. But this is completely wrong ... Patients need to be seen as a high-risk population."
What does this mean for you?
If you have PCOS, experts recommend you continue doing everything you can to avoid contracting COVID-19, including social distancing, mask-wearing, and frequent handwashing. Consider getting the vaccine, if you haven't already.
If you contract COVID-19, it's important to tell your medical team about your history with PCOS. They'll need to know about your diagnosis and your current medications.
You may have to advocate for yourself, mama. But know that you're not alone: more medical professionals are studying the effects of PCOS and COVID-19, and we're learning more every day.
You got this.