PCOS and Diabetes

Medically Reviewed by Michael Dansinger, MD on May 24, 2022
3 min read

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a hormonal problem that affects women and causes a distinct group of symptoms, including irregular periods and infertility. Doctors aren’t sure what causes it. But they do know that women who have PCOS have a higher risk of type 2 diabetes, a condition that affects how the body manages blood sugar.

The causes of PCOS and type 2 diabetes are connected in ways researchers don’t completely understand.

Scientists think many things, including genes, play a role in PCOS. Several things that make a woman more likely to have PCOS also are linked to type 2 diabetes:

  • Weight: Whether PCOS causes obesity, or obesity raises the risk for PCOS, isn’t clear. But the two are tied together.
  • Family history: Does your mother or sister have type 2 diabetes or PCOS? That affects your odds of having PCOS, too.
  • Insulin resistance: This condition means your body can’t use insulin correctly. It can run in families, but it can also happen if you’re overweight.

About half of women with PCOS will have type 2 diabetes by age 40. They also tend to get diabetes at a younger age than other women.

Many studies have found that a higher body mass index (BMI) may be the strongest thing that predicts whether a woman with PCOS gets type 2 diabetes. If you lose some weight -- even just 5% of your total weight -- you can improve your health and lower your diabetes risk.

Getting more exercise is another powerful way to lower your chances for diabetes.

If you have PCOS, your doctor should check you regularly for signs of type 2 diabetes, including monitoring your weight and blood sugar levels.

As you get older, though, your risk for diabetes becomes more in line with the risk for other women your age. Later in life, you and your doctor may not have to watch so closely for type 2.

At any age, you’ll want to watch for common symptoms of diabetes, such as:

Your doctor may prescribe a medicine called metformin. It’s a common diabetes medicine, but some doctors use it to treat PCOS as well.

Metformin helps your body use insulin and lowers your blood sugar. It may also help you lose weight. It can help with PCOS symptoms such as irregular ovulation.

Type 2 diabetes is much more common than type 1, in which the body doesn’t make insulin or makes very little. People are usually diagnosed with type 1 when they’re young, often as children or teens.

The link between type 1 and PCOS is clearer than with type 2 -- type 1 seems to raise a woman’s risk for PCOS. About 1 in 4 women with type 1 will get PCOS at some point. If you have type 1 diabetes, you may want to ask your doctor about screening for PCOS symptoms.

Women with PCOS can also get gestational diabetes during pregnancy. This condition makes your pregnancy more dangerous for you and your baby. It also can lead to type 2 diabetes later life for you and your child. If you have PCOS, your doctor will watch you closely for signs of gestational diabetes while you’re pregnant.