Polycystic Ovary Syndrome and Diabetes

There are two common disorders that are caused, at least in part, by insulin resistance. Diabetes is one of them, and polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is the other. While the causes of each disorder are different, there are many common features.

PCOS is the most common cause of infertility in women. With PCOS, the egg sacs within the ovary clump together and form cysts, blocking the monthly release of eggs. As a result, women with PCOS have irregular menstrual cycles or no menstrual cycles at all, limiting fertility.

While the precise causes of both disorders remain elusive, there is a statistically significant relationship between PCOS and type 2 diabetes in several large recent studies. An Italian study, published in Diabetes, followed a group of 225 women with PCOS for up to 17 years. When the study ended, nearly 40% of the women in the study had developed diabetes. This contrasts with about 6% of healthy women of the same age in the same population who developed diabetes.


A Swedish study compared 87 women without PCOS and 84 women with PCOS. After 14 years, 21% of the women with PCOS developed diabetes, while only 4.5% of those without PCOS became diabetic.

Androgens and Insulin

With PCOS, the ovaries tend to make too many androgens, which are male hormones such as testosterone. There is some evidence that insulin resistance, resulting in high levels of insulin in the blood, might be a contributing factor to increased androgen production.

Metabolic Syndrome

The metabolic syndrome is defined as the presence of raised fasting glucose levels or diagnosed diabetes, abdominal obesity, abnormal cholesterol and triglyceride levels and high blood pressure. Metabolic syndrome leads to a variety of complications, including a two-fold increased risk for cardiovascular disease and a five-fold increased risk for diabetes, according to the International Diabetes Federation.


Metabolic syndrome is considered a leading marker in predicting the onset of type 2 diabetes.

PCOS shares many of the same symptoms of metabolic syndrome, leading researchers to consider the possibility that diabetes and PCOS are manifestations of the same underlying syndrome with genetic factors causing one disease to dominate.

Treatment of PCOS

Like diabetes, PCOS is a chronic disease which can be managed but not cured. Treatment of PCOS includes the use of birth control pills, to reduce androgen production and regulate menstruation. Insulin-sensitizing medications like metformin may also be prescribed.

Just as with diabetes, weight loss, healthy diet and exercise are all extremely important in managing the disease. Even a 10% weight loss can go a long way in reducing the symptoms of PCOS and lessen the likelihood of ultimately developing diabetes as well.


Sources: National Institutes of Health , International Diabetes Foundation, Diabetes.org and CNN Health

Photo image courtesy Mallinaltizan


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