PCOS link to ADHD and autism spectrum disorder

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 7-10% 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.

Dr Aled Rees, Reader at Cardiff University’s Neurosciences and Mental Health Research Institute, who led the study, said “PCOS is one of the most common conditions affecting young women today, and the effect on mental health is still under appreciated. 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, Cardiff University reports the team assessed the mental health history of nearly seventeen thousand women diagnosed with PCOS. The study leveraged data from the Clinical Practice Research Datalink (CPRD), a database containing records for eleven million patients collected from six hundred and seventy four primary care practices across the UK.

When compared with unaffected women, matched for age and body mass index, the study found that women with PCOS 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.

Aled Rees said “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.”

The study is published in the Endocrine Society’s Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism.

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