Are PCOS and Diabetes Connected?

  • pcos

PCOS (Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome) is a hormonal condition which is common amongst woman these days. According to the recent statistics, one in every 10 women is diagnosed with PCOS. Moreover, it affects the metabolism and hormones becoming one of the major causes of infertility.

Since women diagnosed with PCOS are prone to Type 1 diabetes and moreover face difficulties to conceive, it is necessary to know this syndrome in detail.

What is Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome?

PCOS is a condition which affects the female sex hormones. The female ovaries have follicles which are little, liquid filled sacs that hold eggs. An egg when gets developed and mature is discharged by the follicles to go to the uterus for ovulation. For a lady with PCOS, the follicles group together and form cysts. The eggs get developed yet the grouped follicles don’t break and discharge them.

Thus, ladies with PCOS often have irregular periods or only have it on occasion. Since the eggs are not released, women have a lot of difficulty to conceive.

Symptoms of PCOS

As we discussed what PCOS is and how women diagnosed with the same don’t have regular periods, here are some other classic symptoms of Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome:

  • Abnormality in menstrual cycle

Anywhere between 21 and 35 days is considered to be a normal menstrual cycle. However, the average menstrual cycle is 28 days with one ovulation when eggs are normal.

  • No periods

Again, no period for more than 35 days is another sign of PCOS.

  • Irregular periods

An irregular period cycle is when either the period cycles are eight or less or when the menstrual cycles are longer than 35 days.

  • Inability to conceive

Since release of eggs by follicles become difficult in PCOS, women experience difficulty in getting pregnant.

  • Painful menstruation

The symptoms may differ from person to person. Some may experience heavy and prolonged bleeding and some experience painful menstruation.

  • Heavy and prolonged bleeding

The ovaries produce progesterone for two weeks after ovulation. By the end of two weeks, the level of progesterone drops and the lining of the uterus start to shed. This is the case in normal periods. If ovulation does not happen, then the ovaries are unable to make progesterone which leads to thickening of the lining of uterus. Moreover, the calls of the lining might become crowded (hyperplasia, a cause of uterine cancer) which can result in heavy bleeding.

  • Facial hair

When the uterus is unable to produce progesterone, there is an increase in the levels of androgen, including testosterone. This spike in male sex hormones results in increase of male-pattern hair growth and other male characteristics, such as a deep voice.

  • Increase in waist circumference

Waist circumference is a measure which helps you to identify the risks associated with excess fat around the waist. A waist circumference of 40 inches or more in men and 35 inches or more in women is related to health problems such as Type 2 diabetes and heart diseases.

  • Acanthosis nigricans

Acanthosis nigricans is Darkening and thickening of specific parts of the skin, particularly in skin folds of the neck, armpits, and crotch.

  • Acne, oily skin
  • Weight gain or difficulty in losing weight

The relationship between PCOS and Diabetes

One of the major problems in the initial stages of Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome is insulin resistance which happens when the body does not work the way it should. As everyone knows, insulin is an important hormone to control blood sugar levels. When the cell resists insulin, the pancreas then produces more and more insulin to control the sugar levels. It affects the immune system and can trigger Type 2 diabetes, gestational diabetes (diabetes during pregnancy) or pre-diabetes.

Type 2 Diabetes is a condition which is similar to PCOS as the cells become resistant to insulin or insulin produced is inadequate resulting in spike of sugar levels. Even though Type 2 diabetes is preventable through exercise or proper diet, PCOS in itself is a risk factor for Type 2 diabetes. High insulin levels decrease the breakdown of fat and stimulate fat storage, fluctuation in blood lipids such as low HDL-C (good cholesterol) and/or high triglycerides In fact, women diagnosed with PCOS in the early stages are later at high risk of diabetes and heart diseases.

How is PCOS diagnosed?

The diagnosis of PCOS is in several steps.

The doctor will discuss your detailed medical history of menstrual cycle and reproductive history which includes information about birth control that you adopt and the pregnancies if you have had.

Your doctor then would ask you to get a pelvic exam where they will check if you have swelling of cysts in ovary. If the doctor feels the presence of cysts, they might recommend an ultrasound of the uterus.

If the tests diagnose PCOs, the doctor would suggest the blood sugar to be tested to check hormone levels. Since insulin resistance is one of the effects of PCOS, insulin and glucose levels will also be checked.

Can there be a similar treatment?

Treatment varies from person to person on the basis of diagnosis. However, the major requirement is lifestyle changes.

These generally include following a low fat, high fibre, low glycaemic index, healthy eating plan, giving up smoking and doing regular physical activity which can help with weight management and improve insulin sensitivity. A weight loss of as little as 5% can improve insulin levels, acne, ovulation, fertility, reduce excessive hair growth and improve mental health. These lifestyle changes can also assist with managing other risk factors including high blood lipids, blood pressure and hormone levels. In many women the male hormone levels reduce therefore reducing future risks.

  • Regular exercising

Continuous physical activity is a must to keep the body healthy and fight obesity which is associated with PCOS. Exercising also burns excess blood sugar and makes the cells sensitive to use insulin more effectively. This benefits people with diabetes as well as women with PCOS.

  • Healthy food habits

A balanced diet that gives whole grains, healthy fats, and fruits and vegetables is helpful in managing diabetes and overweight. Include low-fat, low GI foods in your diet plan.

  • Medicines

Hormonal birth control makes your menstrual cycle more regular and helps control the rising levels of androgens which results in low growth of hair on face and body.

  • Smoking cessation

Smoking leads to cardiovascular diseases that can cause blood clots in women who take birth pills. Since PCOS is treated with birth pills, this can become a major problem. In simple way, smoking inversely affects heart, blood and nervous system.

  • Weight management

A balanced diet and physical activity can help ease PCOS-related signs. Reducing weight may bring down your blood glucose levels, enhance the way your body utilizes insulin, and help your hormones achieve target levels. Indeed, even a 10% decrease in body weight can help make your menstrual cycle more normal and enhance your chances of getting pregnant.

  • Enough Sleep

Get enough sleep. Sleeping helps to restores the body and contributes in weight loss. Six to eight hours of sleep every night can improve you overall health.

  • Knowledge about the disease

Not only in PCOS, but in every medical condition knowledge of the disease can make you informative about the risks and help you fight them. By knowing the causes and effects of PCOS and insulin resistance, you can know how to prevent them.

  • Maintaining blood lipids

In PCOS, the decrease of fat breakdown and stimulation of fat storage fluctuates in blood lipids such as low HDL-C (good cholesterol) and/or high triglycerides. As PCOS can result in cardiovascular diseases in later stages, maintaining the blood lipids is important.

  • Keeping a track of hormone levels

As PCOS affects hormone levels, keeping a track of the hormone levels is necessary. All the hormones especially insulin and thyroid should be checked quarterly if you have PCOS as it is the most affected.

Nevertheless, particular medicines for the two conditions may supplement or balance  rehab tips each other.

For instance, medicines like metformin that is proven to improve insulin resistance may be prescribed to women diagnosed with diabetes. However, metformin might also have side effects if not used in conjunction with recommended lifestyle changes

If you have PCOS or diabetes, it is better to consult your doctor or diabetes educator about which treatment options will work best for your particular situation.

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