BioNews reporting from ESHRE conference, Madrid:
New research from the UK has shown that polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) is more common in lesbian women presenting for infertility treatment than it is in heterosexual women. PCOS is a common medical condition caused by an imbalance in sex hormones and is associated with subfertility as it causes ovarian dysfunction. In particular, hyperandrogenism (abnormally high levels of male steroid hormones, such as testosterone, in women) is a common feature of the condition.
Dr Rina Agrawal, deputy medical director of the London Women's Clinic, where 40 per cent of patients are lesbians, presented the findings at the annual conference of the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology in Madrid, Spain. The researchers studied 618 women who received treatment at the clinic between November 2001 and January 2003, 254 of whom were lesbians and 364 of whom were heterosexual. None of the women knew before the study whether they already had PCOS or polycystic ovaries (PCO), the condition without the symptoms of PCOS. However, 15 per cent of them had received treatment previously for some symptoms associated with PCOS, such as the inability to conceive, irregular periods or excessive body or facial hair.
The researchers found that 52 per cent of all the women studied had PCO and 24 per cent had PCOS. Of the heterosexual women, 32 per cent had PCO compared to 80 per cent in lesbians, and 14 per cent of heterosexual women had PCOS compared to 38 per cent in the lesbian women studied. The research team said that the results were consistent with previous studies undertaken.
Commenting on the findings, Dr Agrawal said 'we observed a significantly higher prevalence of PCO and PCOS in lesbians compared with heterosexual women. Our initial results are also suggestive of a significantly greater hyperandrogenism in lesbians compared with heterosexual women'. But when pressed on the link between hyperandrogenism and lesbianism, she said there was no real evidence as to whether one was the cause or the effect of the other. 'Our research neither suggests nor indicates that PCO or PCOS causes lesbianism, only that PCO and PCOS are more prevalent in lesbian women', she said.