Soon-to-be moms should take precaution: a new study revealed that women with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) are more likely to bear children who are at risk for developing autism spectrum disorders (ASD).

PCOS is one of the most common endocrine disorders. It causes infertility and affects about one in every 10 women, experts said. It is characterized by abnormally high levels of androgen in the ovaries that can turn into cysts. All women produce androgen, but women with PCOS overproduce them.

In a study featured in Molecular Psychiatry, researchers from Sweden's Karolinska Institutet explained that children born to women with PCOS have a 59 percent risk of autism compared to children whose mothers do not have the disorder.

The team's findings support the idea that particular sex hormones in the utero may affect the growth of ASD in both male and female children. It is the first to report a link between PCOS and ASD.

Researchers said that since women with PCOS have high levels of androgen during pregnancy, the disorder may affect the risk of ASD in their children. About five to 15 percent of women in the child-bearing age are affected by PCOS.

Kyriaki Kosidou, the lead researcher of the study, said they also found an increased risk among women with both obesity and PCOS.

The team examined extensive national Swedish health and population register data and assessed children who were aged four to 17 years old born in the country.

The dataset they used were all anonymized and all personal identifiers were removed. The researchers identified more than 24,000 ASD cases and compared them to 200,000 controls.

Researchers said the findings of the study could encourage earlier diagnosis of ASD in children born to women with PCOS.

However, Kosiduo said that the study only allowed for relative and not absolute risk. She said that the link between exposure to androgen at an early stage and ASD is still unclear. With that, women who are diagnosed with PCOS should not panic about the future of their kids.

"While we did observe an increased risk for ASD, it was a modest increase for a relatively rare disorder," added Kosidou.

Photo: Mahalie Stackpole | Flickr

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