Lesbians are more likely than other women to suffer from a common fertility problem that can also increase their risk of developing obesity, heart disease, and diabetes, according to a new study released Monday. Rina Agrawal, a fertility expert at the London Women's Clinic and the Hallam Medical Center in the United Kingdom, said an ovarian problem caused by an imbalance of sex hormones is more than twice as common in lesbians as in heterosexual women. "A startling number of lesbian women have polycystic ovarian syndrome," Agrawal told a fertility conference. "The prevalence of PCOS is 2 1/2 times, almost three times, as high in lesbian women compared to heterosexual women." PCOS is the most common cause of ovarian dysfunction in women. It is characterized by abnormal follicles, cells in which the eggs mature in the ovaries, irregular periods, acne, obesity, a hormone imbalance, and an increase in body and facial hair.
In a study of 618 women treated at the London clinic, Agrawal discovered that 38% of the lesbian women had PCOS, compared with 14% of the heterosexual women. The cause of PCOS is unknown, but an excess of androgens, or male hormones, has been linked with the ailment. "Our data does not make any conclusions or assumptions because it would be incorrect to make assumptions based on one single study," she said. But she added that doctors should be aware that lesbians have a higher rate of PCOS because it has health implications beyond fertility. Doctors also should carefully screen lesbian patients for PCOS because the condition can result in obesity, boosting risks for diabetes and cardiovascular disease.