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Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome and diabetes

Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) is one of the most common hormone-related conditions experienced by women and a leading cause of infertility. It can also be a risk factor for other health problems like diabetes.

12–18 per cent of women suffer from PCOS during their reproductive years between late adolescence and menopause.

If you have PCOS you may experience some of the following symptoms:

  • Difficulty becoming pregnant
  • Irregular or absent periods
  • Excessive facial and body hair growth
  • Hair loss from the head
  • Acne
  • Weight gain (especially around the mid-section) and difficulty losing weight

What is the relationship between PCOS and diabetes?

We all need insulin to regulate our blood glucose levels. Insulin resistance occurs when the insulin made by your body doesn’t work as well as it should. Body cells also become less sensitive to insulin, so your pancreas needs to make more and more insulin to control your blood glucose levels.

Between 65 and 80 per cent of women with PCOS have insulin resistance.

Insulin resistance is a risk factor for type 2 diabetes, gestational diabetes (diabetes during pregnancy) and pre-diabetes, so if you have PCOS you also have a greater risk of developing these.

Risks of high insulin levels

High insulin levels can cause blood lipid problems, such as low HDL-C (good cholesterol) and high triglycerides, as well as the overproduction of androgens (so-called ‘male’ hormones). This can lead to an increased risk of weight gain, heart disease and stroke.

How is Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome treated?

The treatment of PCOS involves lifestyle changes which include regular physical activity, making healthier food choices and aiming for a healthy weight. A variety of medications can also be used to treat PCOS. Treatment of PCOS can also help with managing other risk factors like blood pressure and hormone levels.

Find out more about Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome by reading our helpful factsheet

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