Type 2 Diabetes and PCOS: What’s the Connection?
Last updated: December 2021
Mood swings, trouble getting pregnant, seemingly random hair growth, lack of energy are just some of the symptoms you might experience if you live with polycystic ovary syndrome.
So what does it have to do with type 2 diabetes? People with PCOS are four times more likely to develop type 2 diabetes than people who do not live with polycystic ovary syndrome.1
What exactly is polycystic ovary syndrome?
Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is one of the most undiagnosed diseases in the United States. But, it affects 5 to 10 percent of individuals of reproductive age.2
PCOS is a hormonal imbalance that can affect a person for their entire life. Among people with PCOS, levels of the hormone androgen are higher than normal. People with PCOS may have large ovaries with many small follicles, which look like cysts.1
High androgen levels can block ovulation and cause infertility, acne, hair thinning, excess hair growth on the body, and an irregular menstrual cycle. An estimated 6 to 12 percent of people experience infertility due to PCOS, making it one of the most common causes of infertility.2
What causes PCOS?
Unfortunately, there is no answer to what exactly causes PCOS at this time. Heredity, or family history, makes developing PCOS much more likely.2
Diet is another proposed theory as to why PCOS may develop. However, there is not much evidence to back this up.
Family history and testing
If you have a family history of PCOS, it is essential to pay attention to symptoms and get tested for PCOS whether or not you experience symptoms.
Your medical provider will first ask about symptoms and family history to diagnose PCOS. Next, your medical provider will likely do a physical and pelvic exam to check the health of your reproductive organs. A blood hormone test and ultrasound may then be conducted.
What is the connection between diabetes and polycystic ovary syndrome?
People with PCOS are much more likely to develop diabetes or gestational diabetes. According to the CDC, more than half of people living with PCOS will develop diabetes by the time they are 40 years old. Frequently, individuals living with PCOS are insulin resistant, increasing their risk of developing diabetes.2
Diagnosis and symptoms of PCOS
It is common for people to find out that they have PCOS when struggling to get pregnant. However, polycystic ovary syndrome can begin to develop very early in life, starting at the first menstrual cycle. It can be challenging to recognize PCOS symptoms at such a young age, especially when teens are already experiencing typical side effects from a new influx of hormones. The most common symptoms of PCOS are irregular periods, abnormal hair growth, acne, dark skin patches, and weight gain. Living with PCOS can make losing more difficult because weight loss is connected to hormones.3
The symptoms are less pronounced for some people, while others experience various symptoms that lead them to get tested. Those who don't have apparent symptoms could take them 5, 10, or even 15 years before learning that they have PCOS.
Because there is no clear cause for PCOS, it can be challenging to treat, and there is currently no cure for it. Obesity typically worsens PCOS symptoms, so losing weight can help reduce the severity of symptoms.
The main way that PCOS is treated is through balancing hormones. Lifestyle changes like diet, sleep, and exercise can balance hormones. Birth control, androgen blocking medications, and sometimes medications that help the body use insulin better will be prescribed. For people experiencing infertility, fertility drugs may be recommended.1
Although managing type 2 diabetes and polycystic ovary syndrome may be overwhelming and confusing, most of the time, PCOS can be successfully managed if identified.
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