Increased anti-Mullerian hormone levels and ovarian size in a subgroup of women with functional hypothalamic amenorrhea: further identification of the link between polycystic ovary syndrome and functional hypothalamic amenorrhea

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Abstract

BACKGROUND:

Functional hypothalamic amenorrhea is a disorder characterized by cessation of menstrual cycles in the absence of organic disease. In most patients, it occurs in adult life after a stressful event and may be related to a condition of mild chronic energy deprivation. The endocrine pattern is characterized by low estrogen levels with an absent response to a progestogen challenge test and low-normal gonadotropin levels. A few studies have shown that some of these women may have some features of polycystic ovary syndrome; these features include an increased androgen response to gonadotropins, increased anti-Mullerian hormone levels, and altered ovarian morphology or increased ovarian size. These findings suggest a link between these 2 completely different disorders: functional hypothalamic amenorrhea and polycystic ovary syndrome. The importance of the possible coexistence of these disorders in some women is important for follow-up of these women and in their treatment if they desire to become pregnant.

OBJECTIVE:

To determine whether a subgroup of well-characterized women with functional hypothalamic amenorrhea may have the coexistence of polycystic ovary syndrome.

STUDY DESIGN:

Retrospective analysis of women with functional hypothalamic amenorrhea. Forty consecutive patients and 28 normal age-matched control patients were studied. Blood was obtained for serum anti-Mullerian hormone, androgens, and other hormone levels and all women had ovarian ultrasonographic measurements.

RESULTS:

In the entire group of women with functional hypothalamic amenorrhea, anti-Mullerian hormone and ovarian volume were greater than in control patients. In 13 patients (32.5%), anti-Mullerian hormone was elevated (>4.7 ng/mL, levels consistent with polycystic ovary syndrome) and in this group, ovarian volume was significantly greater than in the remaining patients with functional hypothalamic amenorrhea. Four of the 13 women with functional hypothalamic amenorrhea who had elevated anti-Mullerian hormone levels (10%), also had ovarian volume ≥10 cc (consistent with polycystic ovarian syndrome). In these patients all studied androgens were in the upper normal range or slightly elevated despite low-normal gonadotropins; mean total testosterone was significantly greater than in the other patients with increased anti-Mullerian hormone values with normal ovarian size (P<.05.) Six other women with functional hypothalamic amenorrhea who had increased anti-Mullerian hormone also had isolated elevations of some androgen levels, but mean testosterone and ovarian size were normal.

CONCLUSIONS:

As many as 10% of women with functional hypothalamic amenorrhea may have the coexistence of polycystic ovary syndrome. Because no signs or symptoms of this disorder were reported by these women before the appearance of the amenorrhea, it does not seem to be a coincidental relationship. The possibility that functional hypothalamic amenorrhea favors the appearance of polycystic ovary syndrome or more likely, that a mild (ovulatory) phenotype of polycystic ovary syndrome predisposes to the development of functional hypothalamic amenorrhea should be considered. Possible mechanisms are unclear and need to be investigated but may involve common vulnerabilities such as psychologic and mood disturbances.

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