It seems like polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is one of those conditions that seems to spawn others–or at least be related closely to them.
A recent study in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism found that women with the condition are more likely to have a mental health disorder. Kids of moms with it may also have a slightly higher risk for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and autism spectrum disorders (ASD).
In fact, women with PCOS were more likely to have mental health disorders, including depression, bipolar disorder and anxiety. PCOS has already been tied to mental health issues in the past.
PCOS is the most common cause of infertility in young women. It is characterized by elevated male hormone levels, which lead to symptoms including weight gain, irregular periods, and excessive facial and body hair.
Researchers from the Neuroscience and Mental Health Research Institute at Cardiff University looked at the mental health history of about 17,000 women who had PCOS. Women with the hormonal condition had a higher prevalence of depression, for example, as 23.1 percent of women with PCOS had it, while 19.3 of women without PCOS had it. And 11.5 percent of women with PCOS had anxiety, while 9.3 percent of women without PCOS experienced it.
There are other not-so-inspiring results, too. Kids who were born to moms with PCOS had a higher risk of developing ADHD and autism spectrum disorders.
While the study authors say more research is needed, they recommend that women with PCOS be screened for mental health issues. It’s a good idea to keep in mind what your little one may face later down the road as well.
The risks of a diagnosis of autism and ADHD were relatively increased (by an average of about 50 percent) but it’s important to recognize that only small numbers of children were affected (less than 1 percent in both mothers with PCOS and unaffected mothers), according to Aled Rees, the lead author and a researcher from Cardiff University in the U.K.
“Prospective mothers with PCOS shouldn’t therefore be too concerned about these findings and other studies are needed before we can be clear as to whether this risk holds true,” Rees added.
“This is fascinating and validates smaller studies,” commented Dr. Serena H. Chen, a fertility specialist from New Jersey. She said researchers don’t know what causes PCOS, and cannot conclude that it causes mental health problems. The analysis on kids controlled for maternal body mass index (BMI)–something interesting to note because other studies show a correlation between a high BMI and higher rates of autism.
“We know that maternal obesity increases the risks for birth defects like neural tube defects so there does appear to be evidence that maternal obesity can impact fetal brain development. So it’s plausible that maternal obesity could increase the risk for mental health issues in the child,” she added.
Want some good news? Chen said that folic acid supplementation appears to lower the risk for neural tube defects in all women, and women with a high BMI may benefit from higher doses of folic acid. People with a BMI of 35 and above may want to consider discussing folate supplementation with their obstetrician, Chen said.