Insulin and the polycystic ovary syndrome

Diabetes Res Clin Pract. 2017 Aug:130:163-170. doi: 10.1016/j.diabres.2017.06.011. Epub 2017 Jun 12.


Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is the most prevalent endocrinopathy among women during reproductive age. PCOS is characterised by hyperandrogenaemia, hyperinsulinaemia, and deranged adipokines secretion from the adipose tissue. In addition to the reduced insulin sensitivity, PCOS women exhibit β-cell dysfunction as well. Low birth weight and foetal exposure to androgens may contribute to the development of the PCOS phenotype during life. Further metabolic complications lead to dyslipidaemia, worsening obesity and glucose tolerance, high prevalence of metabolic syndrome, and greater susceptibility to diabetes. PCOS women show age-related existence of hypertension, and subtle endothelial and vascular changes. Adverse reproductive outcomes include anovulatory infertility, and unrecognised potentiation of the hormone-dependent endometrial cancer. The main therapeutic approach is lifestyle modification. Metformin is the primary insulin-sensitising drug to be used as an adjuvant therapy to lifestyle modification in patients with insulin resistance and impaired glucose tolerance, as well as in those referred to infertility treatment. Thiazolidinediones should be reserved for women intolerant of or refractory to metformin, while glucagon-like peptide 1 analogues has a potential therapeutic use in obese PCOS women. Randomised clinical trials and repetitive studies on different PCOS phenotypes for the preventive actions and therapeutic options are still lacking, though.

Keywords: Androgens; Insulin; Insulin resistance; Metformin; Polycystic ovary syndrome.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hypoglycemic Agents / therapeutic use
  • Insulin / metabolism*
  • Insulin Resistance
  • Metformin / therapeutic use
  • Polycystic Ovary Syndrome / diagnosis
  • Polycystic Ovary Syndrome / drug therapy
  • Polycystic Ovary Syndrome / metabolism*
  • Polycystic Ovary Syndrome / pathology


  • Hypoglycemic Agents
  • Insulin
  • Metformin