If you know that your mother or other female relatives have Polycystic ovary syndrome, or PCOS, then you may wonder if that means you will also develop this condition.
PCOS is a main cause of what’s called anovulatory infertility—which is when an egg doesn’t release from the ovary. It affects anywhere from eight to 13 percent of women.1
Is PCOS hereditary? Here are some facts on PCOS and whether it gets passed from generation to generation.
Polycystic Ovary Syndrome
The condition known as PCOS occurs when your ovaries produce an abnormal amount of androgens, male sex hormones that are usually present in women in small amounts.2 This problem with hormones typically happens during your reproductive years.3
Here are some of the side effects:3
1. You may not have periods very often.
2. You may have periods that last many days.
3. You may have trouble getting pregnant.
4. The excess of androgen may result in excess facial and body hair, called hirsutism. Sometimes severe acne and male-pattern baldness can happen, too.
5. Your ovaries might be polycystic; they may be bigger; you may have follicles containing immature eggs develop around the edge of the ovary; and, your ovaries might not work the way they should.
The name polycystic ovary syndrome describes the numerous small cysts or fluid-filled sacs that form in the ovaries.2 Some but not all women with PCOS develop these cysts.
The exact cause of PCOS isn’t clear, although many women with PCOS have insulin resistance. This means the body can’t use insulin well, so it builds up in the body and may cause higher androgen levels. Obesity can also increase insulin levels and make PCOS symptoms worse.2
Is PCOS Hereditary?
While the exact cause of PCOS is unclear, it does seem to be related to abnormal hormone levels. And, it does sometimes run in families, so genetics might be a factor, although specific genes associated with the condition have not yet been identified. If your female relatives have PCOS—like your mother, sister or aunt—the risk of you developing it is often increased.4
Because PCOS is a complex disease, and is sometimes difficult to diagnose, the genetics aren’t clear either. Researchers report that: “the genetic basis of PCOS is different between families and within families but is related to a common pathway. Due to complexity and heterogeneity a single gene or related genes in a single family have not been reported.”1
Therefore the genetic risk of PCOS is yet to be determined.1 So while researchers continue to learn about the causes of PCOS, some evidence does show a genetic or hereditary component.5
If you have one or more symptoms of PCOS, use our Physician Finder to find a doctor near you with expertise in women’s health. Whether or not it’s hereditary, early diagnosis and treatment may lower the risk of long-term complications such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease.3