February 7, 2024

Is Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome Genetic?

While this hormonal condition can be hereditary, there are other risk factors to also consider

Teal awareness ribbon in doctor's hand, symbolic bow color for supporting patient with PCOS

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is the most common hormonal condition in women and people assigned female at birth (AFAB) of reproductive age. It usually affects up to 15% of women and people AFAB. A diagnosis of PCOS requires at least two of the following conditions:

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  • Absent or irregular periods.
  • Elevated male hormone, acne or abnormal hair growth on the face, chest and abdomen.
  • An ultrasound showing ovaries with many cysts.

But is PCOS genetic and does it run in families?

Ob/Gyn Yolanda Thigpen, MD, explains if PCOS is passed down genetically and how early you can get a diagnosis.

Is PCOS passed down genetically?

Are you born with PCOS? Most cases of PCOS are genetically acquired, though the way it’s inherited is poorly understood.

But providers are beginning to see a link among genes, medical conditions and lifestyle choices that make people more susceptible to developing PCOS.

In other words, your genetic makeup doesn’t necessarily mean that you will have PCOS. It may only develop, in some cases, if other risk factors are present.

Other risk factors that may lead to developing PCOS include:

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People with PCOS also have a higher risk of depression, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and endometrial cancer.

Can it come from your biological father’s side?

Although researchers haven’t confirmed a clear genetic link, PCOS does tend to occur in biological families, and it’s possible that particular genetic mutations contribute to whether someone develops the condition.

Interestingly, PCOS can be passed down from your father’s side as well. In one study, if the father had a history of heart attack or stroke, the daughters had a higher risk of PCOS. A history of diabetes in either parent doesn’t seem to be significant.

“It can be helpful to ask if anyone from both the mother and father’s side of the family have risk factors and/or symptoms consistent with PCOS,” says Dr. Thigpen.

Will your child have PCOS if you do?

If you have a mother or sister with PCOS or a first-degree relative with diabetes or glucose intolerance, this may mean you’re more likely to develop the condition. An estimated one-quarter of people with PCOS have mothers with the condition, and one-third have sisters with the condition.

“If you have PCOS, your daughter is at a higher risk of developing it as well,” explains Dr. Thigpen. “Signs may appear even before puberty.”

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What’s the earliest age to diagnose?

In some cases, symptoms may start during puberty.

It should be considered in an adolescent with complaints of hirsutism, treatment-resistant acne, menstrual irregularities, darkening of the skin on their neck or having obesity. But you might not know you have PCOS until you have trouble becoming pregnant or experiencing other symptoms like weight gain.

Dr. Thigpen suggests speaking to a healthcare provider, who can diagnose PCOS after an exam and discussing any symptoms you have. You may also need blood tests or an ultrasound to confirm PCOS.

“PCOS can be treated and managed. Your lifestyle habits greatly contribute to the development of the disease,” she continues.

“You’re encouraged to eat a healthy diet and exercise to maintain an ideal weight, avoid more than moderate alcohol and caffeine, and manage stress. People who have experienced infertility, irregular periods or abnormal hair growth should see a physician.”

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