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Diabetics' irregular periods signal excess hormones

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Women with diabetes have been shown to have more menstrual problems than other women and a recent study suggests that an excess of male hormones could be involved. Both acne and irregular periods in women with type 1 and type 2 diabetes respectively, can be related to excess male hormones, or androgens. Higher-than-normal androgen levels may increase the risk of heart disease in women, a condition that is more common in diabetics. Excess androgens in women with diabetes could be one reason for why they are at higher risk for heart disease. Previous research has shown that women with diabetes are more likely to show a range of menstrual irregularities. For instance, studies show that women with type 1 diabetes appear to be more likely to report having long and heavy periods, and also tend to begin menstruating at a later age and go through menopause relatively early. In addition, investigators have shown that young women who have long or irregular menstrual cycles may have a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes by middle age. In type 2 diabetes, the body no longer responds properly to insulin, the body's key blood sugar-regulating hormone. In the current study researchers, from the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center in Pennsylvania, collected data from to 28 women with type 1 diabetes and 32 women with type 2 diabetes, and from 32 women who were diabetes-free. The researchers found that women with type 1 diabetes were more likely to experience acne than women without it, and women with type 2 diabetes were more likely to report long stretches without menstruating. Both acne and long menstrual cycles could be signs of excess androgens in the body. According to the researchers the possible relationship among diabetes, irregular cycles and excess androgens might come from polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), a hormonal disorder characterised by high levels of male hormones, and a tendency toward obesity, diabetes and male attributes such as excess body hair. Researchers have shown that PCOS can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease, and the presence of that condition in women with diabetes could be one reason why the blood sugar disorder increases the risk of heart disease. The researchers added that this remains an ‘emerging area’ of research, and further studies are needed to determine the relationship between androgen excess, PCOS, diabetes and heart disease.

Annual meeting of the American Diabetes Association,June 2003

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