PCOS and Diabetes: How are they Actually Related?

Here’s a sobering stat: according to research published in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, people with PCOS are around four times more likely to develop type 2 diabetes than people who don’t have PCOS.

But, why?

This week is Diabetes Week in the UK, so we looked into how PCOS and diabetes are connected, and why people with PCOS have an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes…

So, how are diabetes and PCOS related?

Well, it’s complex – not least since there’s so little that experts fully understand about PCOS causes. However, it’s thought that diabetes is a risk for people with PCOS due to insulin resistance.

High levels of the hormone insulin is common in people with PCOS – between 70-95% of those diagnosed with PCOS experience insulin resistance – and it’s thought that this could even be a potential cause of PCOS.

High levels of insulin can also lead to developing type 2 diabetes. We’ll explain.

Insulin is a hormone produced in the pancreas to help the body turn glucose from food into energy. So, when you eat and your blood sugar rises, your pancreas releases insulin to direct that sugar from your bloodstream and into your cells to create energy. Then, blood sugar lowers to within a normal range.

If you have insulin resistance, your body can’t use insulin as effectively as it should. Your cells can’t  accept glucose from your blood as easily, and so your body produces more insulin in an attempt to help transport sugar from the bloodstream to your cells.

If the pancreas can produce enough insulin to keep blood sugar levels within a healthy range, diabetes is less likely to develop. However, if it reaches a point where it can’t then, over time, this can lead to the development of type 2 diabetes.

What percentage of people with PCOS get diabetes?

According to Diabetes UK, around 10–20% of people with PCOS will go on to develop type 2 diabetes.

However, it’s important to note that someone’s risk of developing type 2 diabetes – whether they have PCOS or not – is also influenced by other factors too, such as family history and body weight, among others.

Can you have PCOS and not have diabetes?

Yes. Whilst many people with PCOS do experience insulin resistance, it’s less common that type 2 diabetes will develop. Nevertheless, it is a risk that should be monitored.

What should you do if you think you might have diabetes?

If you’ve been diagnosed with PCOS and you haven’t yet discussed your increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes with your GP, now’s the time. They will be able to offer preventative measures (such as increasing daily movement and monitoring nutrition, for example) that could help to lessen the likelihood of type 2 diabetes developing.

Symptoms of diabetes include:

  • Increased thirst
  • Increased need to urinate (particularly at night)
  • Tiredness
  • Weight loss
  • Blurred vision

If you experience any symptoms of diabetes, get checked out by your gp.