BACKGROUND Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a common condition in reproductive-aged women associated with impaired glucose tolerance (IGT), type 2 diabetes mellitus (DM2) and the metabolic syndrome. METHODS A literature search was conducted (MEDLINE, CINAHL, EMBASE, clinical trial registries and hand-searching) identifying studies reporting prevalence or incidence of IGT, DM2 or metabolic syndrome in women with and without PCOS. Data were presented as odds ratio (OR) [95% confidence interval (CI)] with fixed- and random-effects meta-analysis by Mantel-Haenszel methods. Quality testing was based on Newcastle-Ottawa Scaling and The Cochrane Collaboration's risk of bias assessment tool. Literature searching, data abstraction and quality appraisal were performed by two investigators. RESULTS A total of 2192 studies were reviewed and 35 were selected for final analysis. Women with PCOS had increased prevalence of IGT (OR 2.48, 95% CI 1.63, 3.77; BMI-matched studies OR 2.54, 95% CI 1.44, 4.47), DM2 (OR 4.43, 95% CI 4.06, 4.82; BMI-matched studies OR 4.00, 95% CI 1.97, 8.10) and metabolic syndrome (OR 2.88, 95% CI 2.40, 3.45; BMI-matched studies OR 2.20, 95% CI 1.36, 3.56). One study assessed IGT/DM2 incidence and reported no significant differences in DM2 incidence (OR 2.07, 95% CI 0.68, 6.30). One study assessed conversion from normal glucose tolerance to IGT/DM2 (OR 2.4, 95% CI 0.7, 8.0). No studies reported metabolic syndrome incidence. CONCLUSIONS Women with PCOS had an elevated prevalence of IGT, DM2 and metabolic syndrome in both BMI and non-BMI-matched studies. Few studies have determined IGT/DM2 or metabolic syndrome incidence in women with and without PCOS and further research is required.