A quarterly publication of the Autism Research Institute

The Autism Research Review International is quarterly publication of the Autism Research Institute

Fall, 2020 | Number 4, Volume 34

PCOS in mothers again linked to problems in kids

Mothers who have polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) have increased odds of having children with psychiatric or neurodevelopmental disorders, according to a large-scale study. 

PCOS causes women to overproduce androgens such as testosterone. It is the most common cause of anovulatory infertility (in which the ovaries do not release eggs during the menstrual cycle). 

Xinxia Chen and colleagues compared nearly 25,000 Finnish children born to mothers diagnosed with PCOS or anovulatory infertility to more than one million children born to mothers without PCOS. The researchers found that children born to mothers with PCOS had an elevated risk of neurodevelopmental or psychiatric disorders. This risk remained significant when the researchers controlled for the babies’ sex and maternal obesity; however, it was even higher if mothers were severely obese, experienced perinatal problems, experienced gestational diabetes, or had a caesarean delivery. 

Having a mother with PCOS increased the risk of intellectual disabilities and ASD 1.4-fold. It also significantly increased the risk of sleeping disorders, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), conduct disorder, tic disorders, developmental disorders, eating disorders, anxiety, mood disorders, and other behavioral and emotional disorders. 

The findings are broadly consistent with the results of several other studies. For instance, in 2018, Adriana Cherskov and colleagues reported that women with autism have an approximately two-fold increase in risk for PCOS, and women with PCOS have a two-fold increase in rates of autism (see ARRI 2018, No. 4). In 2016, Kyriaki Kosidou and colleagues found that maternal PCOS increased the odds of ASD in children by 59% (see ARRI 2016, No. 4).


“Association of polycystic ovary syndrome or anovulatory infertility with offspring psychiatric and mild neurodevelopmental disorders: a Finnish population-based cohort study,” Xinxia Chen, Linghua Kong, Terhi T. Piltonen, Mika Gissler, and Catarina Lavebratt, Human Reproduction, September 1, 2020 (free online). Address: Catharina Lavebratt, Translational Psychiatry Unit, Centre for Molecular Medicine, Karolinska University Hospital, L8:00, 171 76 Stockholm, Sweden, [email protected].


“PCOS is linked to increased risk of neuropsychiatric disorders in offspring,” news release, European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology, September 1, 2020.