Women with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) are more likely to experience mental illnesses including depression and anxiety than women who do not have the condition, new research suggests.
PCOS is a common condition affecting around one in five women in the UK. The exact cause of PCOS is unknown, but it is related to abnormal hormone levels in the body, including high levels of insulin and testosterone.
Symptoms of PCOS can include abnormality in the woman’s menstrual cycle, lower fertility levels or infertility, abnormal hair growth, dryness of skin, vaginal dryness, weight gain and loss of libido.
The researchers suggested these “emotionally distressing symptoms” could be linked to increased instances of mental illness.
[READ MORE: PCOS causes, symptoms and treatment explained]
The wide-scale study of nearly 17,000 women diagnosed with PCOS, conducted by Cardiff University, looked at instances of mental illness among women with PCOS against data on the general population.
The study used data from the Clinical Practice Research Datalink (CPRD), a database containing records for 11 million patients collected from 674 primary care practices across the UK.
When compared with unaffected women of the same age and body mass index, the study found PCOS patients were more likely to be diagnosed with mental health disorders, including depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder and eating disorders.
Most notably, the research found almost a quarter (23%) of women with PCOS had experienced depression while 11.5% of women with PCOS had suffered from anxiety. This compares to 19% and 9% for the two conditions respectively across the general population.
The research also found children born to mothers with PCOS had around a 50% greater risk of being diagnosed with ADHD and autism spectrum disorders than other children - although the overall diagnosis rate remained low. The researchers warned the higher diagnosis rate could be linked to the fact mothers with PCOS come into more frequent contact with health professionals, and said more research is needed in this area.
“PCOS is one of the most common conditions affecting young women today, and the effect on mental health is still under appreciated,” said Dr Aled Rees from Cardiff University, who led the study. “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.”
The study is published in the Endocrine Society’s Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism.