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Women With Polycistic Ovary Syndrome Are More Likely To Give Birth To Children With Autism: Study

Aug 02, 2018 12:46 AM EDT
In a new study, women with PCOS are found more likely to have autistic children than those without. Statistics of autism remain low despite the discovery, but the link between the two conditions could help researchers understand both better.
(Photo : Boris Trost | Pixabay)

Mothers diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome are found to be more at risk of giving birth to children with autism, new data shows.

Furthermore, these women are also more prone to autism themselves.

New Study Links PCOS, Autism

Researchers from the University of Cambridge's Autism Research Centre have discovered a link between PCOS and autism in a study published in the journal Translational Psychiatry. Women with PCOS have a 2.3 percent chance of having an autistic child, while those without the syndrome only have a 1.7 percent chance.

According to a press release from the university, the team analyzed NHS records to reach the conclusion. The study includes data from 8,588 women with PCOS and their children.

A previously published report has revealed that autistic children have increased levels of "sex steroid" hormones such as testosterone prior to their birth. This discovery led the researchers to ask where these extra sex steroid hormones are coming from.

A possible source is mothers with elevated testosterone levels, which is what happens in PCOS. The testosterone may make its way to the placenta and expose the unborn child to extra levels of the hormones, which could lead to a change in its brain development.

Indeed, even after taking other factors into account such as complications and mental health problems, researchers found that women with PCOS are more likely to have children with autism than those without.

The team stresses that even with PCOS, giving birth to a child with autism is still statistically small, but the findings could shed more light in the understanding of both conditions.

In two separate studies with the same data, the team also discovered that women with autism are more likely to have PCOS and women with PCOS are more likely to have autism. This suggests that the two conditions are strongly linked.

"This new research is helping us understand the effects of testosterone on the developing fetal brain, and on the child's later behavior and mind," research supervisor Professor Simon Baron-Cohen, the director of the Autism Research Centre, explains in a statement. "These hormonal effects are not necessarily independent of genetic factors, as a mother or her baby may have higher levels of the hormone for genetic reasons, and testosterone can affect how genes function."

About PCOS

NHS says that PCOS is a common condition affecting the ovaries that lead to irregular periods, excess androgen, and polycystic ovaries. It usually arises when a woman is in her late teens or early 20s.

Other symptoms include pregnancy difficulties, excessive hair growth, weight gain, thinning hair, and oily skin.

Women with PCOS have also been found to have an increased risk of health problems later in life, including high cholesterol and diabetes.

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