Study: Irregular periods give women double the risk of developing adult-onset diabetes

Wednesday, November 21st 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

CHICAGO (AP) _ Women with infrequent or very irregular menstrual periods face double the risk of developing adult-onset diabetes, a new study suggests.

Such cycles are common in women with a hormonal disorder called polycystic ovary syndrome, which previous research has linked to diabetes.

The 101,073 women studied weren't asked about the disorder. But because many participants with irregular cycles also had other symptoms of the hormonal disorder, the study bolsters the link between the disorder and diabetes, said lead researcher Dr. Caren Solomon of Harvard University's Brigham and Women's Hospital.

Solomon said the study underscores the need for women and doctors to recognize ``that these menstrual cycle characteristics are potentially a marker for other metabolic changes,'' such as polycystic ovary syndrome and diabetes, she said.

Women with infrequent or very irregular periods _ those at least 40 days apart or too erratic to predict _ should be evaluated for the hormone disorder and if it's diagnosed, should also be tested for diabetes, Solomon said.

Women who were the most overweight also were the most irregular and faced the highest diabetes risk.

That suggests that obesity _ a known diabetes risk _ rather than cycle irregularities can explain the findings, said Dr. Christopher Saudek, professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins University and president of the American Diabetes Association.

But Solomon said even normal-weight women with irregular periods were more likely to develop diabetes than women with regular cycles.

The study appears in Wednesday's Journal of the American Medical Association.

Most of the participants were white and 507 developed diabetes during the study. Whether similar results would be found in black women _ who have higher rates of obesity and diabetes than whites _ is uncertain, Solomon said.

Polycystic ovary syndrome is on a list of diabetes risks in new health guidelines from the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists, which also recommends diabetes testing for afflicted women.

The disorder involves abnormal production of male hormones by the ovaries and adrenal glands and is more common in obese women. Besides irregular periods, symptoms may include excess body hair, acne and infertility. About 5 percent to 10 percent of U.S. women of childbearing age are affected.

Dr. Craig Witz, a reproductive endocrinologist at the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio, said the abnormal hormone levels may impair the body's use of insulin. In diabetes, the body is unable to produce or make efficient use of insulin.