Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, or PCOS, is the most common endocrine disorder among women between the ages of 18 and 44. It is one of the top causes of fertility problems, making recognizing and treating it critically important.

Most of the symptoms of PCOS are the result of abnormally elevated levels of androgens, the male hormones. Many women experience a combination of several symptoms, and the pattern of symptoms can vary greatly from woman to woman. Symptoms may include absent or abnormal menstrual periods, excess hair on the body and face, acne, as well as infertility or low fertility.

Certain mental health disorders are more prevalent in women with PCOS, and some neurodevelopmental disorders are more prevalent in their children.

Several medical conditions are often seen in association with PCOS, including type 2 diabetes, obesity, sleep apnea and endometrial cancer.

Women with PCOS are screened and treated for the physical and endocrine complications of the syndrome. However, a recent study suggests that mental health issues in the affected women and their offspring are often overlooked. The researchers call for increased public health awareness of the mental health effects of the syndrome, so women will more readily seek early identification and appropriate interventions.

PCOS has been connected to mood and mental health disorders in women in a number of studies; but there have been conflicting data, and a direct link to the syndrome has not been clear. Researchers from Cardiff University compared almost 17,000 women who had been diagnosed with PCOS to two control groups, one matched to the age and BMI of the PCOS patients; the second matched for age, BMI and mental health status.

Because overweight and obesity are known to contribute to anxiety and depression, it was important that the control groups had the same physical/weight characteristics as the test group to avoid bias.

PCOS patients were also compared with matched controls in the second group to see if mental health issues like depressive disorder, anxiety and bipolar disorder were more common among women with PCOS. The researchers also looked at whether attention deficit disorder, ADHD or autism spectrum disorder were more common in the children of women with PCOS.

They found that some mental health disorders were indeed more prevalent in the PCOS population, and some neurodevelopmental disorders were more likely in their children. The prevalence of depression in the PCOS population was 23 percent as compared to 19 percent among the women in the control group. It was 11.5 percent for anxiety, compared to 9.3 among women in the control group. The children of women with PCOS had higher likelihood of having autism spectrum and attention deficit hyperactivity disorders.

The findings suggest that mental health also needs to be a priority if you or a loved one have PCOS. More research will need to be done, but women with PCOS should be aware that the hormone disorder may affect their emotional health, and perhaps that of their children.

The study is published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism.