The impact of childhood maltreatment on women's reproductive health, with a focus on symptoms of polycystic ovary syndrome

Child Abuse Negl. 2022 Nov:133:105831. doi: 10.1016/j.chiabu.2022.105831. Epub 2022 Aug 17.


Background: Childhood maltreatment leads to lifelong health risks, particularly in women. Although reproductive health has been linked to such maltreatment, limited literature exists on its association with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).

Objectives: In a sample of psychiatrically healthy women, we evaluated the impact of child maltreatment (subtypes of abuse and neglect) on women's reproductive health outcomes, specifically PCOS.

Participants and setting: The 237 psychiatrically healthy women, aged between 18 and 79 years, were control participants in a case-control study (SHARED ROOTS), conducted in Cape Town, South Africa, between May 2014 and June 2017.

Methods: Probable PCOS was based on a history of symptoms of ovulatory dysfunction and hyperandrogenism or a diagnosis of PCOS. We conducted hierarchical logistic regression models to assess which child maltreatment subtypes (emotional, physical and sexual abuse and emotional and physical neglect) were significantly associated with PCOS, controlling for sociodemographic and clinical factors.

Results: Probable PCOS was present in 29 (12.2 %) women. Emotional abuse (31.6 %) was the most frequent type of child maltreatment and was significantly associated with PCOS (OR = 5.11, CI 1.87; 13.98), including when other maltreatment types were accounted for (OR = 3.90, CI 1.27; 12.02). Physical abuse was associated with PCOS (OR = 4.21, CI 1.43; 12.38), but was not significant when other maltreatment types were factored in.

Conclusions: Child maltreatment is independently associated with PCOS in women without psychiatric disorders. In the context of all maltreatment subtypes, emotional abuse remained associated with PCOS, suggesting its unique effect on this endocrinopathy.

Keywords: Child maltreatment; Emotional abuse; Physical abuse; Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS); Psychiatrically healthy women; Women's reproductive health.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Child
  • Child Abuse* / psychology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Polycystic Ovary Syndrome* / diagnosis
  • Polycystic Ovary Syndrome* / epidemiology
  • Reproductive Health
  • South Africa / epidemiology
  • Young Adult