PCOS & Diabetes
Posted by Allie on 12th July 2016
Women with PCOS are at higher risk of long term health issues such as hypertension, cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. In fact, approximately 30% of those with PCOS have type 2 diabetes and, conversely, 27% of premenopausal women with diabetes also have PCOS (1). Relatively few studies have examined the prevalence of type 1 diabetes in the condition.
What is diabetes?
Diabetes is a long term health problem which occurs when cells in the body don’t respond to insulin or when insufficient amounts of insulin are produced by the pancreas. There are two main types of diabetes: type 1 and type 2. Symptoms of type 2 diabetes include frequent urination, especially at night, blurred vision, excessive thirst and tiredness.
What are the long-term complications associated with type 2 diabetes?
If left untreated or poorly controlled, diabetes can lead to serious health problems such as stroke, heart disease, artherosclerosis (arteries becoming clogged with fatty substances), kidney disease and diabetic retinopathy. Diabetes UK is the leading national charity and you can read more about the condition on their website. If you are worried that you may have diabetes, speak with your GP or relevant medical practitioner.
Why do some women with PCOS develop type 2 diabetes?
Both PCOS and type 2 diabetes are obesity-related health conditions (2).
In type 2 diabetes insufficient levels of insulin are produced. In response, beta cells in the pancreas secrete higher levels of insulin resulting in hyperinsulinemia (excessive amounts of insulin in the blood).
PCOS is associated with insulin resistance, which affects approximately 50-70% of women with the condition and particularly those who are obese (1). Insulin resistance results in hyperinsulinemia (1) which, as explained above, is a characteristic of type 2 diabetes (3). It has been proposed that the combination of beta-cell dysfunction and insulin resistance may put women with PCOS at risk of developing types 2 diabetes (1). Research has found that insulin resistance does not, however, lead to PCOS in the majority of women who have type 2 diabetes (1).
How can women with PCOS minimize the risk of developing type 2 diabetes?
Weight loss: Increased insulin sensitivity is linked with an improvement in PCOS symptoms (2). For women with PCOS who are obese, a weight loss of 5% can improve features of the condition and insulin resistance (2). You can read more about the benefits of weight loss, healthy eating and ways to achieve it in PCOS & Nutrition.
Exercise: Exercise has also been shown to improve insulin sensitivity (1), and aids both weight loss and maintaining a healthy weight.
Conventional medication: Metformin has been shown to improve some PCOS symptoms, such as regular menstrual cycles and insulin sensitivity. Another medication, pioglitazone, may prevent or delay the onset of type 2 diabetes in women with PCOS (4). Please liaise with your GP or relevant medical practitioner to discuss medication options and benefits.
Note that referenced or mentioned authors, websites and organisations are not affiliated with, nor endorsing, the content published on Positive PCOS.
1: Pothina, N.P. & P. Jennings. 2013. The link between diabetes and polycystic ovary syndrome. Practice Nursing. 24 (3): 120-122
2: Barber, T.M. & S. Franks. 2012. The link between polycystic ovary syndrome and both type 1 and type 2 diabetes mellitus. Women's Health. 8 (2): 147-154
3: Cerf, M.E. 2013. Beta cell dysfunction and insulin resistance. Frontiers in Endocrinology. 4 (37). doi:10.3389/fendo.2013.00037
4: Shah, S. 2012. Metformin and pioglitazone in polycystic ovarian syndrome: a comparative study. The Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology of India. 62 (5): 551–556