PCOS & Diabetes

PCOS appears to have a genetic link. When it comes to fertility, women with PCOS often have a hard time getting pregnant. They may also experience recurrent pregnancy loss. Thus, PCOS and infertility often go hand-in-hand. If you have PCOS, you should know that PCOS can be associated with several serious health conditions, including pre-diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and type 2 diabetes.

Polycystic Ovary Syndrome

Polycystic ovary syndrome is a condition associated with several symptoms that vary from woman to woman. Women with PCOS may have some of these symptoms, but not others:

  • Excessive hair growth and high levels of male hormones (called androgens)
  • Menstrual irregularities, including lack of ovulation
  • Oily skin and acne
  • Ovarian cysts
  • Weight problems and obesity

Women with PCOS often have a high Body Mass Index (BMI), which means that they tend to be overweight or obese. Whether they have weight problems or not, women with PCOS are also at high risk for pre-diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and type 2 diabetes. About 1 in 3 women with PCOS have pre-diabetes and other symptoms associated with metabolic syndrome. If you have PCOS, ask your doctor about these conditions. These conditions may pave the way for diabetes and other serious illnesses if left untreated.

Pre-Diabetes and PCOS

Pre-diabetes occurs when blood glucose (blood sugar) levels are high, but not high enough to reach the level of full-blown diabetes. Pre-diabetes can be harmful, and may lead to one or more of the following complications:

  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Low energy
  • Organ failure of the eyes, nerves, and kidneys
  • Type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome
  • Weight gain

Note: You may have heard of impaired fasting glucose or impaired glucose tolerance. These terms can be used interchangeably with pre-diabetes.

Metabolic Syndrome

PCOS is also associated with metabolic syndrome, which can also precede diabetes. Metabolic syndrome is a group of symptoms, including pre-diabetes, that may put your health at risk. Here are some of the symptoms of metabolic syndrome that may affect women with PCOS:

  • High blood pressure and cardiovascular disease
  • High cholesterol
  • High levels of androgens
  • Pre-uterine cancer
  • Weight gain

If you have PCOS, you may be twice as likely as other women to develop metabolic syndrome. This may put your fertility and your overall health in jeopardy.

Are you at risk?

Women with PCOS are at risk for pre-diabetes and metabolic syndrome, and some women with PCOS may be at a higher risk than others. Here are some additional risk factors for pre-diabetes:

  • A family history of type 2 diabetes
  • Delivering a baby weighing more than 9 pounds
  • Gestational diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • Low HDL cholesterol or high blood triglycerides

Certain ethnic groups, including African Americans, Asian Americans, Hispanic Americans, Native Americans, and Pacific Islanders also face a greater risk for pre-diabetes.

How to Get Help

If you have PCOS, you may be at risk for pre-diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and diabetes. Talk to your doctor about tests for pre-diabetes, including the fasting plasma glucose test and the oral glucose tolerance test.

If you start to show symptoms of these conditions, ask your doctor about treatment options. Early interventions, including weight loss plans, may reduce problems associated with PCOS and pre-diabetes. You can achieve a healthy weight and lower your BMI by eating a balanced fertility diet and exercising daily. Medication treatments, including Metformin, may also help you improve your health and restore your fertility. Ask your doctor for more information about PCOS treatments that may work for you.