Women diagnosed with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) may suffer with several tell tale signs – the symptoms associated with the condition can include irregular or missing periods, excessive hair growth, struggling to get conceive, acne, weight gain and depression.
It is estimated that up to one in five women worldwide suffer from PCOS, affecting how the ovaries work. The condition causes the sex hormones oestrogen and progesterone to become imbalanced – making periods rare or irregular, creates a high level of androgen in the body, and is responsible for polycystic ovaries, where the ovaries become enlarged and contain many fluid-filled sacs. “Polycystic Ovary Syndrome is most commonly identified in women of reproductive age in their late teens or 20s,” explains Pink Parcel’s resident GP Dr Lapa.
Often though, PCOS is only apparent at the point of trying to get pregnant – unfortunately it is one of the most common causes of female infertility. While treatment is currently available for women trying to conceive, the success rate is low.
However, scientists now believe they have finally discovered the cause of the condition, and are a step closer to finding a cure.
Research from the French National Institute of Health and Medical Research (Inserm) has revealed that the syndrome may be triggered before birth by excess exposure in the womb to a hormone called anti-Müllerian hormone (AMH).
Because pregnant women with polycystic ovary syndrome were found to have 30 per cent higher levels of AMH hormone than normal, and since the syndrome is known to be hereditary, the French scientists wanted to investigate if this hormonal imbalance in pregnancy might cause the same condition in their offspring.
This idea was tested on pregnant mice by exposing them to excess anti-Müllerian hormone and monitoring the effect of these increased hormone levels on their babies.
It was found that the offspring mice did indeed display the hallmarks of PCOS, confirming that the syndrome can pass from mothers to daughters via hormones in the womb.
And the team were also able to reverse the condition in mice by treating them with a drug called cetrorelix – a fertility drug often prescribed for humans.
With plans set to trial the drug in humans later this year, we could, at last, be looking at a potential cure for this fertility-reducing condition.
"It could be an attractive strategy to restore ovulation and eventually increase the pregnancy rate in these women," says Paolo Giacobin who headed up the research team in France.