Menstrual cycles can indicate diabetes risk

Updated: Jun 18, 2020

Young women who experience irregular periods such as oligomenorrhea (abnormally long menstrual cycles of over 40 days) may be at a higher risk for type 2 diabetes later in life, says a report in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).

The article was based on 101 073 women from 1989 to 1997 who documented their irregular periods, in this case menstrual cycles, and communicated any diagnosis of type 2 diabetes. At the start of the report, the women ranged in age from 18 to 22 years. 507 cases of diabetes were documented. Allowing for body mass index, oral contraceptive use, and other variables, the researchers found that women who had oligomenorrhea were statistically far more likely to develop diabetes than women whose menstrual cycles were normal or shorter than usual (less than 21 days), regardless of obesity or family history of the disease.

polycystic ovarian syndrome pcos

Oligomenorrhea can be a symptom of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), a syndrome involving elevated levels of hormones and enlarged ovaries that is associated with irregular periods, irregular menstrual cycles, obesity, infertility, glucose intolerance and insulin resistance.

Women who are not diagnosed with PCOS but still experience long menstrual cycles can still be at a greater risk for diabetes, notably if high levels of testosterone are present in the body. However, women who have long or light menstrual cycles due to body weight, poor caloric intake and extreme exercise are excluded from this risk group.

The study recommends that women who report oligomenorrhea should engage in active steps to help prevent diabetes, such as losing weight, following a healthy diet and engaging in regular exercise.