Study Finds Mothers With Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome More Likely To Give Birth To A Child With Autism

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According to research carried out by a team at Cambridge University’s Autism Research Centre, women with polycystic ovary syndrome (referred to as polycystic ovarian syndrome in the United States) are more likely to have child with autism, Science Daily reports.

The study was published in the Translational Psychiatry journal.

PCOS is a condition that causes elevated testosterone levels in about one in 10 women. The condition also is associated with follicles — fluid-filled sacs — in the ovaries. Symptoms of PCOS can include irregular menstrual cycles, excess body hair, and delayed onset of puberty.

Autism is characterized by difficulties with social interaction, communication limited to unusually narrow interests, difficulty adjusting to change, and a strong preference for predictability. Autistic individuals also may have delayed language, learning difficulties, and sensory hypersensitivity. Autism occurs in about 1 percent of the world population. Disability Scoop reported in early 2018 new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention statistics stating that about one in 59 children are autistic in the United States.

Children with Autism may have sensory hypersensitivity, otherwise known as sensory processing disorder, in which things like noise can be overwhelming. Featured image credit: AnurakShutterstock

The research team is the same that published a 2015 study showing that children with autism have elevated levels of “sex steroid” hormones, including testosterone, before they are born. Excess testosterone “masculinizes” the brain and body. This research is one possible explanation for why autism is more often diagnosed in boys than in girls.

The previous study’s unanswered questions led to the most recent studies findings: If children with autism have elevated sex steroid hormones in utero, where is the excess hormone coming from? One possible answer would be mothers with PCOS.

The research team examined health records of 8,588 women with PCOS and their first-born children, and then compared the first group to 41,127 women without PCOS. Factors such as maternal health problems and complications during pregnancy also were taken into account. The results showed that women with PCOS had a 2.3 percent chance of giving birth to a child with autism, while women without PCOS had a 1.7 percent chance. Also discovered in this research is that women with autism are more likely to have PCOS and women with PCOS also are more likely to be autistic themselves, strongly suggesting that the two conditions are linked by elevated sex steroid hormone levels.

The research team presented the results of their study at the International Meeting for Autism Research in 2016. A Swedish study replicated their results in the same year.