Women with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) were found to be at higher risk for developing type 2 diabetes over a 30-year period, according to new research presented at the 2022 American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) Scientific Congress & Expo, and described in an article at Healio.
PCOS is a hormonal disorder that causes enlarged ovaries containing small fluid-filled sacs, and it can have painful symptoms. Hormonal changes related to PCOS can also have effects throughout the body — including effects related to diabetes. One study estimated that nearly one in five adolescent girls with type 2 diabetes also has PCOS, although the nature of the link between PCOS and diabetes is still not fully understood. Many scientists believe, though, that insulin resistance — when tissues in the body become less sensitive to insulin, which is a large part of the disease process in type 2 diabetes — also plays a role in the development of PCOS. There is also evidence that correcting the hormonal imbalances seen in PCOS may reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. A recent study showed that taking oral birth control pills as a treatment for PCOS reduced the risk for type 2 diabetes.
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For the latest study, researchers looked at data from 1,112 women living in the United States who took part in a research study called Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults (CARDIA). They enrolled in the study in 1985 and 1986, when they were between 18 and 32 years old, and were followed for 30 years. Participants were classified as having PCOS if they met certain criteria for the condition two years into the study, as well as other symptoms (infrequent menstrual periods and abnormal hair growth) 16 years into the study. Data showing whether participants had diabetes, high blood pressure, or abnormal blood lipid (cholesterol and triglyceride) levels was collected five, seven, 10, 16, 20, 25, and 30 years after the beginning of the study.
Link found between PCOS and type 2 diabetes
Out of all participants, 81 were found to have PCOS, while 1,031 did not. During the entire study period, 3.7% of participants with PCOS experienced a cardiovascular event (such as a heart attack or stroke), compared with 6.4% of participants without PCOS. High blood pressure was diagnosed in 43.2% of participants with PCOS and in 41.2% of participants without PCOS, and abnormal blood lipids were diagnosed in 43.2% of participants with PCOS and in 34.7% of participants without PCOS. Type 2 diabetes was diagnosed in 33.3% of participants with PCOS, and in 22.1% of participants without PCOS.
After adjusting for factors known to affect the risk of having cardiovascular events or developing high blood pressure, abnormal blood lipids, or type 2 diabetes, the researchers found that participants with PCOS were 2.07 times as likely to develop type 2 diabetes. After this adjustment, no significant linked were seen between PCOS and any of the other health conditions.
The researchers did find, though, that participants with PCOS were more likely to develop type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and abnormal blood lipids earlier in the study period than participants without PCOS — even though their overall risk was higher only for type 2 diabetes. Participants with PCOS were not found to be more likely to have a cardiovascular event earlier in the study period.
Future studies, the researchers noted, should look at what specific aspects of PCOS are more strongly linked to developing other health conditions, and should include larger groups of participants followed for a longer period of time.
Want to learn more about PCOS? Read “PCOS and Diabetes: What’s the Link?”