Irregular periods. Excess facial or body hair. Cystic acne.
For the 1 in 10 women living with PCOS, it’s overwhelming enough to manage the symptoms and frustrations that come with the disorder. But as November’s Diabetes Awareness Month reminds us, there is another serious health reality that many women with PCOS may face: diabetes.
Increasingly, experts are finding a link between PCOS and diabetes. If you have PCOS, read on to learn how these two conditions are connected and what you can do to help prevent type 2.
What is PCOS?
Polycystic ovarian syndrome is a genetic hormonal disorder that affects up to 10 million women of reproductive age. It is the single most common cause of female infertility—but it’s also a lifelong condition that lasts beyond child-bearing years.
Women with PCOS live with hormonal imbalances. These include insulin resistance, higher levels of the male hormones called androgens and lower levels of the female hormone estrogen. These hormone imbalances can hinder ovulation and cause unpleasant symptoms such as ovarian cysts, unpredictable periods, painful acne and an overgrowth of facial or body hair.
Even more seriously, PCOS is a real risk factor for conditions like diabetes.
What is type 2 diabetes?
Type 2 diabetes is a metabolic disorder that occurs when cells in the body become resistant to insulin and/or an abnormal amount of insulin is made. Type 2 is more common than type 1 diabetes, which is an auto-immune disease that usually develops earlier in life when the immune system mistakenly destroys insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 30 million Americans live with some form of diabetes.
Type 2 develops due to insulin resistance, where the body is usually producing less insulin and the hormone may be less effective. Lifestyle factors like being overweight or obese can influence the onset of the disorder.
Today, mounting evidence has experts linking type 2 diabetes and PCOS.
The Connection Between PCOS and Diabetes
PCOS and type 2 diabetes share an important risk factor — insulin resistance. Experts believe that PCOS and blood sugar go hand in hand, as most women with PCOS have insulin resistance, where the pancreas is working overtime to produce more insulin in response to high blood sugar levels.
Evidence is showing that women with PCOS who have this insulin dysfunction are more than four times as likely to develop type 2 diabetes.
In fact, as many as 27% of pre-menopausal women with type 2 diabetes also have PCOS. And around 50% of all women with PCOS will develop diabetes by age 40.
Other Risk Factors for Type 2 Diabetes
The American Diabetes Academy agrees that PCOS increases a woman’s chances of developing prediabetes (higher than normal blood glucose) and diabetes.
The risk increases if you:
- Are 45 or older
- Are Black, Hispanic/Latino, American Indian, Asian American or Pacific Islander
- Have immediate family with diabetes
- Are overweight and/or physically inactive
- Have high blood pressure or take medicine for high blood pressure
- Had gestational diabetes during pregnancy
- Have low HDL cholesterol and/or high triglycerides
More is understood about PCOS, and its link to diabetes, than ever before. So, if you have PCOS, ask your doctor right away about getting tested for type 2 and how to manage the condition if you have it. Your provider can show you how specific treatments for PCOS and type 2 can complement, or even offset, one other.
While there is no cure for PCOS, making healthy lifestyle changes that work for you long-term is your best chance for fighting obesity and type 2 diabetes. It’s also a proven way to alleviate some PCOS diabetes symptoms associated with PCOS.
How do lifestyle changes help?
Exercise burns off excess blood sugar and weight, allowing your cells to become more sensitive to insulin. This helps the body use insulin more effectively. Pair that with a balanced diet rich in vegetables, fruits and whole grains, to reduce your risk of developing type 2 diabetes and help manage PCOS symptoms.
Help Is Here
If you have questions about PCOS diabetes symptoms, managing PCOS or your risk for PCOS and type 2 diabetes, we’re here to help.
Call the Kaldas Center at 920-886-2299.