It’s long been suspected that there’s a link between polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) and type 2 diabetes mellitus. Increasingly, experts believe that these conditions are related.
The disorder PCOS disrupts a woman’s endocrine system and increases her levels of androgen, also called male hormone.
A 2018 study of mice has proposed that it’s caused by excess exposure, in utero, to anti-Müllerian hormone.
Estimates of PCOS prevalence vary widely. It’s reported to affect anywhere from an estimated 2.2 to 26 percent of women worldwide. Some estimates indicate that it affects 6 to 12 percent of women of reproductive age in the United States.
PCOS can cause the following symptoms:
- irregular menstruation
- excessive hair growth in a male distribution pattern
- unintentional weight gain or obesity
Some theories suggest that insulin resistance can create an adverse reaction involving the endocrine system and, in this way, can help bring about type 2 diabetes.
Type 2 diabetes occurs when the cells of the body become resistant to insulin, an abnormal amount of insulin is made, or both.
Over 30 million Americans have some form of diabetes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
In fact, women who experience PCOS in young adulthood are at an elevated risk for diabetes and, potentially, fatal heart problems, later in life.
Researchers in Australia collected data from over 8,000 women and found that those who had PCOS were 4 to 8.8 times more likely to develop type 2 diabetes than women who didn’t have PCOS. Obesity was an important risk factor.
A 2017 study of Danish women found that those with PCOS were four times as likely to develop type 2 diabetes. Women with PCOS also tended to be diagnosed with diabetes 4 years earlier than women without PCOS.
With this recognized connection, experts recommend that women with PCOS get routinely screened for type 2 diabetes earlier and more often than women without PCOS.
According to the Australian study, pregnant women with PCOS are nearly three times as likely as women without it to develop gestational diabetes. As a pregnant women, should pregnant women undergo regular screening for gestational diabetes?
Exercise also helps the body burn off excess blood sugar and — because exercise helps bring weight down to a normal weight — the cells become more sensitive to insulin. This allows the body to use insulin more effectively, benefitting people with diabetes as well as women with PCOS.
A balanced diet is also key to helping to reduce the risk of diabetes and to managing weight. Make sure your diet includes the following foods:
However, specific treatments for the two conditions may complement or offset one another.
Some birth control pills may also increase blood glucose levels, a problem for people at risk for diabetes. However, metformin (Glucophage, Glumetza), a first-line medication for type 2 diabetes, is also used to help treat the insulin resistance in PCOS.
If you have PCOS or diabetes, talk to your doctor about which treatment options will work best for your particular situation.
Certain lifestyle changes and medications can help you manage your health.