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PCOS and Insulin Resistance

What You Need to Know About PCOS and Insulin Resistance

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Updated July 22, 2009

Insulin Resistance

PCOS and insulin resistance are frequently found together, which makes it important to understand this common problem. Insulin is a hormone which is produced by the pancreas, a gland in the abdomen with a lot of functions. It is typically secreted in response to a large amount of glucose, or sugar, in the blood. Once produced, insulin causes glucose to be taken into the body cells to be used for energy. Women with PCOS frequently have insulin resistance, meaning their body does not respond as quickly to insulin. The sluggish response will cause larger and larger amounts of insulin to be required before glucose is taken into the body tissues, and eventually a change in the way the body deals with sugar. Consistently high levels of glucose in the blood can lead to diabetes.

In the years before actually being diagnosed as diabetic, known as pre-diabetes, a number of physiologic changes occur within the body. During this stage, which can last as long as 10 to 12 years, women frequently do not experience any of the symptoms found in diabetics. The body is no longer as sensitive to insulin as it may have been before. This leads to high blood sugars after eating that do not quickly lower. Because PCOS is now recognized as a risk factor for developing diabetes, it is recommended that women with the disease be routinely screened so that insulin resistance can be found early, and treatment can be initiated earlier.

Screening

As many as 30% to 40% of women may experience insulin resistance and eventually become diabetics. Because of the associated risk of cardiovascular disease, obesity and negative health effects, your doctor may want to monitor your blood sugar. The first test that may be performed is a fasting blood glucose test. The doctor will have you fast for a specific amount of time, then check you blood sugar. If the test is elevated, the doctor may want to do a second test to determine how your body processes sugar. This is known as a glucose tolerance test. The doctor will take some blood to check your blood sugar, and then give you a special drink, with a specific amount of sugar in it. Your blood sugar will then be measured at designated intervals afterwards to see how long it takes for your cells to process the sugar. If the readings remain elevated longer then normal, this may indicate that you are becoming resistant to insulin.

Prevention

While there is no cure for diabetes, a number of steps can be taken to prevent complications. First, make sure to follow your doctor’s recommendation in completing the testing he suggests. Secondly, engage in a healthy lifestyle starting now. You should eat a well-balanced diet, rich in whole grains, low-fat dairy products, fruits and vegetables. Avoid unnecessary fats or sugars. Begin incorporating daily exercise according to your doctor’s recommendations. Go for a 30-minute walk each day. Increase your activity slowly as you can tolerate it. Eventually, you’ll want to add in some light weight training to build some muscle. Use the tools on this site to help you.
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