Women with polycystic ovaries having a two-fold increased risk of developing non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, according to UK researchers.
Scientists at the University of Birmingham said the reason for the heightened risk was down to increased male hormones in such patients.
“Our findings suggest that regular screening for fatty liver disease should be considered in these women”
They noted that polycystic ovary syndrome affected 10% of all women and was known to cause irregular periods, impaired fertility, male-pattern body hair growth and acne.
In addition, they highlighted that many women who have the condition have higher levels of male hormones, are less sensitive to insulin and are overweight or obese.
Given the obesity link to both polycystic ovary syndrome and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, the researchers said there was a strong interest in exploring relationships between the two conditions.
They have now found that women with polycystic ovary syndrome are two to three times more likely to develop non-alcoholic fatty liver disease than women without it.
In addition, importantly, the researchers found women with both polycystic ovaries and a high testosterone level were at an increased risk of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease regardless of their weight.
In the largest study of its kind they compared the records of 63,000 women with polycystic ovary syndrome to 120,000 women of similar age, body weight and background.
The study, published today in the journal PLOS Medicine, also specifically looked at two cohorts of women with polycystic ovary syndrome and women with high levels of testosterone.
“We observed a two-fold increased risk of fatty liver disease”
Study author Dr Krish Nirantharakumar, from the University of Birmingham, said: “We observed a two-fold increased risk of fatty liver disease in women with polycystic ovary syndrome and male hormone excess.
“Looking at the levels of the major male hormone testosterone, we found that having a high testosterone level increased the risk of fatty liver disease significantly, even in women who were of a normal healthy weight,” he said.
Professor Wiebke Arlt, director of the university’s Institute of Metabolism and Systems Research, said: “Our research has highlighted significant and previously unknown health risks.
“Our findings suggest that regular screening for fatty liver disease should be considered in these women, to make sure the disease is caught early,” she said.
“Our research shows that polycystic ovary syndrome does not only affect fertility but also comes with significantly increased rates of metabolic complications,” said Professor Arlt.
She added: “This means that women with polycystic ovary syndrome need integrated healthcare throughout their life and not only when planning pregnancy.”