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Irregular Menstrual Cycle Linked to Increased Diabetes Risk

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Irregular Menstrual Cycle Linked to Increased Diabetes Risk

Women with irregular menstrual cycles are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes and heart disease over the course of decades, according to a new study published in the journal Clinical Endocrinology.

Researchers have long known that menstrual periods can be affected by various health problems, including cardiovascular and metabolic disorders. In fact, a study published in September 2020 in the journal The BMJ found that women of any age with an irregular menstrual cycle were more likely to die prematurely, including from cardiovascular disease and cancer. But outside the context of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) — in which numerous small cysts form in the ovaries, and menstrual periods are typically disrupted — the link between the timing of menstrual periods and the risk for diabetes isn’t well documented. PCOS is known to increase the risk for type 2 diabetes, and many women with PCOS take the type 2 diabetes drug metformin in an effort to prevent diabetes. Recent research has shown that taking a contraceptive pill reduces the risk for type 2 diabetes in women with PCOS.

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Irregular menstrual cycle linked to increased diabetes risk

For the latest study, researchers at Monash University in Australia looked at data from 13,714 women born between 1946 and 1951 who took part in a general health study, in which they had various health outcomes tracked over 20 years. The researchers were interested in comparing the risk for both diabetes and heart disease among women with either a regular or an irregular menstrual cycle. After adjusting for a number of known risk factors for diabetes and heart disease — such as body weight and lifestyle factors — the researchers found that women with an irregular menstrual cycle were 20% more likely to develop heart disease, and 17% more likely to develop diabetes. What’s more, women with an irregular menstrual cycle who didn’t take hormones to help regulate their cycle were 30% more likely to develop diabetes, compared with women who had a regular menstrual cycle.

The researchers didn’t advocate for any new screening guidelines based on their findings. Instead, they wrote, their research supports the need to follow existing guidelines that call for diabetes and cardiovascular screening in women with PCOS or early menopause — guidelines that tend to affect women in their 40s with irregular menstrual cycles. But the latest findings also underscore the potential benefits of taking hormone therapy to help regulate menstrual cycles when indicated — and to look for and treat any underlying health conditions that could be responsible for erratic menstrual periods — to limit the risk of developing diabetes or heart disease.

Want to learn more about diabetes and the menstrual cycle? Read “Diabetes and Your Period.” 

Quinn Phillips

Quinn Phillips

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A freelance health writer and editor based in Wisconsin, Phillips has a degree from Harvard University. He is a former Editorial Assistant for Diabetes Self-Management and has years of experience covering diabetes and related health conditions. Phillips writes on a variety of topics, but is especially interested in the intersection of health and public policy.

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