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PCOS link to ADHD and autism spectrum disorder

10 April 2018

Woman carrying baby

Women with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) are prone to mental health disorders, and their children face an increased risk of developing attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and autism spectrum disorder (ASD), according to a new study by researchers at Cardiff University’s Neuroscience and Mental Health Research Institute.

PCOS affects 7 percent to 10 percent of women of childbearing age. It is the most common cause of infertility in young women, and the elevated male hormone levels associated with the condition lead to many other emotionally distressing symptoms like irregular periods, excessive facial and body hair, weight gain and acne.

“PCOS is one of the most common conditions affecting young women today, and the effect on mental health is still under appreciated,” said Dr Aled Rees, who led the study.

“This is one of the largest studies to have examined the adverse mental health and neurodevelopmental outcomes associated with PCOS, and we hope the results will lead to increased awareness, earlier detection and new treatments.”

In the retrospective cohort design study, the team assessed the mental health history of nearly 17,000 women diagnosed with PCOS. The study leveraged data from the Clinical Practice Research Datalink (CPRD), a database containing records for 11 million patients collected from 674 primary care practices across the UK.

When compared with unaffected women, matched for age and body mass index, the study found that PCOS patients were more likely to be diagnosed with mental health disorders, including depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder and eating disorders.

Children born to mothers with PCOS were also found to be at greater risk of developing ADHD and autism spectrum disorders. These findings suggest that women with PCOS should be screened for mental health disorders, to ensure early diagnosis and treatment and ultimately improve their quality of life.

“Further research is needed to confirm the neurodevelopmental effects of PCOS, and to address whether all or some types of patients with PCOS are exposed to mental health risks,” said Dr Rees.

The study ‘Polycystic Ovary Syndrome is associated with Adverse Mental Health and Neurodevelopmental Outcomes’ is published in the Endocrine Society’s Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism.

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