What is PCOS?

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.

It’s believed that insulin resistance, specifically, may play a part in causing PCOS. Insulin resistance by the receptors for insulin leads to high levels of insulin being produced by the pancreas.

According to the Mayo Clinic, other possible associated factors for having PCOS include low-grade inflammation and hereditary factors.

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:

It can also affect a woman’s ability to have a child (infertility). It’s often diagnosed when multiple follicles are seen in a woman’s ovaries during an ultrasound.

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).

While type 2 diabetes is typically preventable or manageable through physical exercise and a proper diet, research shows that PCOS is a strong independent risk factor for developing diabetes.

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.

According to older research, up to approximately 27 percent of premenopausal women with type 2 diabetes also have PCOS.

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?

Multiple studies have shown that PCOS and its symptoms are also frequently found in women with type 1 diabetes.

Regular exercise is crucial for keeping the body healthy, especially when it comes to fighting obesity and type 2 diabetes. It’s also been shown to help with symptoms associated with PCOS.

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.

For instance, women with PCOS are also treated with birth control pills. Birth control pills help to regulate menstruation and clear acne, in some cases.

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.