Mothers’ PCOS linked to children’s health problems

Children born to mothers with polycystic ovary syndrome have an increased risk of developing infections, allergies and other childhood illnesses, researchers report today.

The observational research, the largest yet to investigate this, found that children of mothers with PCOS were 32% more likely to be admitted to hospital with a variety of health problems than children of mothers without PCOS.

They were also 31% more likely to be admitted for infectious diseases and 47% more likely to be admitted for allergy-related problems, such as asthma, they write in Human Reproduction.

The researchers, from the university of Montreal and McGill University, Canada, looked at 1,038,375 children born in Quebec between 2006 and 2020. Of these, 7,160 children were born to mothers with PCOS.

They found the risk of hospitalisation was increased for problems relating to metabolism (up by 59%), the gut (72%), central nervous system (74%), and ears (34%). It was also raised for respiratory problems, such as pneumonia (32%), and mental and behavioural problems (68%).

However, there was no link with cancer, and there was little difference between boys and girls in the association of PCOS with hospitalisation.

Study leader Dr Nathalie Auger, associate professor of epidemiology at the School of Public Health, University of Montreal, said: “These findings fill a big gap in what we know about the long-term health of children whose mothers have PCOS.

“Primary care doctors and obstetricians should consider identifying women with PCOS before conception and offering early interventions such as weight management and strategies to help prevent problems such as diabetes and heart and blood vessel diseases.

“Family doctors and paediatricians should consider monitoring children more closely after birth to minimise morbidity. Greater parental awareness may help improve outcomes in children.”

Dr Auger said women with PCOS may have high levels of androgen and insulin resistance, which have been linked to problems with the placenta, such as inflammation of the membrane surrounding the foetus. These create a suboptimal environment in the womb that could lead to impaired immune function and low-grade systemic inflammation. Genetic factors could also play a role.

Associations between maternal PCOS and the health of offspring were not explained by fertility treatments, multiple births, preterm births or the mothers’ other health problems.

“We believe that further research is needed to see if effective management of maternal PCOS can reduce the risk of health problems in offspring and improve long-term health. We need to know if exercise, dietary changes and medications can make a difference,” said Dr Auger.

“In future work, we intend to examine outcomes of pregnancy, as well as future outcomes of women with PCOS. These women may be at risk of developing cardiovascular disease or other health problems, and epidemiologic research documenting this possibility is needed to help improve the management of these patients.”

Wei SQ, Bilodeau-Bertrand M, Auger N. Association of PCOS with offspring morbidity: a longitudinal cohort study. Human Reproduction 14 July 2022; doi:10.1093/humrep/deac154

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