A leading expert on reproductive health says young women with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) have a startlingly higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes, even if young and not overweight.
The research led by Professor Helena Teede and Dr Anju Joham, from the School of Public Health and Preventive Medicine at Monash University analysed a large-scale epidemiological study, called the Australian Longitudinal Study of Women's Health, which revealed the findings.
Over 6000 women aged between 25-28 years were monitored for nine years, including 500 with diagnosed PCOS. The incidence and prevalence of type 2 diabetes was three to five times higher in women with PCOS. Crucially, obesity, a key trigger for type 2 diabetes, was not an important trigger in women with PCOS.
Professor Teede said the findings have significant implications for diabetes screening, as well as for the care of women with PCOS.
"Type 2 diabetes itself is preventable, as are diabetes complications, but only if people at risk of or who have diabetes are screened, aware and take preventative action," Professor Teede said.
"With the dramatic rise in diabetes, this research highlights the need for greater awareness and screening, especially in high risk groups including young women with PCOS."
The women studied were aged 25-28 in 2003 and were followed over 9 years until age 34 to 37 years in 2012.
Professor Teede said these are the peak reproductive years when undiagnosed diabetes could have significant risks for mothers and babies.
"Our research found that there is a clear link between PCOS and diabetes. However, PCOS is not a well-recognised diabetes risk factor and many young women with the condition don't get regular diabetes screening even pre pregnancy, despite recommendations from the Australian PCOS evidence based guidelines." She said.
"Currently diabetes screening guidelines recommend screening over 40 years of age. This may need to be reconsidered in women with PCOS. We clearly need more research in PCOS, with better screening, prevention and treatments."
Affecting around 1 in 5 women, the study also shows that many women with PCOS remain undiagnosed with what is the most common hormonal disorder in women. Symptoms can include irregular periods, weight gain, excessive facial hair and acne. PCOS is commonly managed with regular screening and prevention strategies, alongside lifestyle changes and medication.
Professor Helena Teede presented this ground breaking research at the joint meeting of the International Society of Endocrinology and the Endocrine Society (ICE/ENDO) in Chicago, which took place 21-24 June.
In the next phase of research, Professor Teede's team and researchers from Monash Health, Alfred Health and the Baker IDI are looking at how novel medication, may improve the health of women with PCOS.