Diabetes may cause unusual changes to a person’s menstrual cycle. Likewise, the hormonal changes that happen throughout the menstrual cycle can affect a person’s diabetes.

This article explains how diabetes can affect a person’s menstrual cycle.

It also explains the associations between the menstrual cycle, blood glucose, insulin, and the possible development of type 2 diabetes.

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Menstruation refers to the time when progesterone and estrogen levels drop and the body sheds the lining of the uterus through the vagina. Usually, a menstrual period will last for 3–7 days.

The menstrual cycle is the time period between the first day of one menstrual period and the first day of the next. These cycles can vary from one individual to another. The average length of a menstrual cycle is around 28 days, but they can range from 24 to 38 days.

People with diabetes may have an increased risk of experiencing irregular or unpredictable menstrual cycles.

Type 1 diabetes

Type 1 diabetes should not affect the regularity of the menstrual cycle or the heaviness of a person’s periods. That said, menstrual irregularities can sometimes occur with this condition.

Menstruation can begin at any time throughout puberty, but the average age is 12 years. Type 1 diabetes should not affect the age at which a person has their first period. However, there have been some reports of later first periods in people with type 1 diabetes.

That said, as long as the person is not underweight and they are able to manage their type 1 diabetes well, they should not experience any delay in starting menstruation.

Type 2 diabetes

People with type 2 diabetes are at increased risk of anovulation. This occurs when an ovary does not release an egg into the fallopian tube. When this happens, a person will not have their period.

Although the risk of anovulation is higher in people with diabetes, not everyone with diabetes will experience it.

There may be a link between irregular menstrual cycles and the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

A large-scale study from 2020, which involved 75,546 females, investigated a possible link between menstrual cycle dysfunction and the development of type 2 diabetes.

The study found that those who had experienced long or irregular menstrual cycles in their teenage and adult years were more likely to develop type 2 diabetes than those who had experienced regular menstrual cycles.

According to the researchers, hormonal imbalances may play a critical role in the link between irregular menstrual cycles and the development of type 2 diabetes.

They add that long and irregular menstrual cycles are strong indicators of increased insulin levels, or hyperinsulinemia. This can trigger a cascade of events that eventually exacerbate insulin resistance, in which the body is unable to use insulin to control blood glucose levels effectively.

In this study, some other risk factors for type 2 diabetes included:

  • having overweight or obesity
  • being physically inactive
  • consuming a low quality diet

During the menstrual cycle, changes in hormones can affect insulin and blood glucose levels.

After ovulation, a person enters the second half of their menstrual cycle, called the luteal phase of the menstrual cycle. This phase is characterized by an increase in the hormone progesterone.

Increased levels of progesterone can cause temporary insulin resistance, which healthcare professionals call luteal phase insulin resistance.

A 2013 study involving six females with type 1 diabetes found that blood glucose levels were higher during the luteal phase of the menstrual cycle.

Additionally, some people with type 1 diabetes may experience lower blood glucose levels at the start of their periods. They may need to alter their insulin intake accordingly. Blood glucose levels usually return to normal after a period has ended.

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a condition characterized by an imbalance of reproductive hormones. People with PCOS have higher levels of hormones called androgens, which can prevent ovulation.

Some symptoms of PCOS include:

  • irregular periods
  • weight gain or difficulty losing weight
  • acne
  • excess hair on the face or body
  • thinning hair on the scalp
  • darkening of the skin around the neck, breasts, and groin
  • skin tags in the armpits or neck area

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), people with PCOS often have insulin resistance, which increases the risk of type 2 diabetes. This risk further increases if the person also has overweight or obesity.

The CDC also states that more than half of people with PCOS develop type 2 diabetes by the time they reach 40 years of age. People with PCOS may be able to reduce this risk by maintaining a moderate weight through diet and regular exercise.

Regular and predictable menstrual cycles are important indicators of overall health. As such, a person should contact a doctor if they experience irregular menstrual cycles or unusual changes to their menstrual cycle.

A person should also contact a doctor if they experience any of the following:

If a person has diabetes and is finding it difficult to control their blood glucose levels during certain stages of their menstrual cycle, they can contact a doctor to discuss the next steps.

A person may find it helpful to track their blood glucose levels throughout the menstrual cycle so that they can detect any patterns in their overall health.

Below are some treatment tips for managing diabetes and alleviating menstrual symptoms.

Managing diabetes

It is important that people with diabetes take steps to monitor and control their blood glucose levels throughout the menstrual cycle.

If a person has type 2 diabetes and is not taking insulin, getting regular exercise can help reduce their blood glucose levels. People may need to maintain regular exercise before and during menstruation or whenever their blood glucose levels begin to peak.

People may find that their appetite increases before their period. In order to prevent blood glucose levels from rising, they should try to avoid refined carbohydrates.

Some examples of refined carbs include:

  • white bread
  • pastries
  • white rice
  • pasta
  • breakfast cereals
  • sodas
  • foods containing added sugars

If a person is taking insulin, they may need to alter their dosage throughout their menstrual cycle as well as manage their intake of carbs.

Managing menstrual symptoms

The following home remedies may help alleviate period pain and other menstrual symptoms:

  • taking over-the-counter pain relief medication
  • applying a warm compress to the abdomen or lower back
  • aiming to get around 8 hours of quality sleep each night
  • managing stress with relaxation or mindfulness techniques
  • maintaining regular exercise and eating healthily throughout the menstrual cycle

People with type 1 or type 2 diabetes may have an increased risk of experiencing irregular or unpredictable menstrual cycles.

It is important to note that hormonal changes that occur during the menstrual cycle can also affect a person’s diabetes. Hormonal fluctuations can trigger changes in blood glucose levels and insulin levels. So, people with diabetes need to take steps to manage these changes.

A person should contact a doctor if they have diabetes and are experiencing irregular or unusual menstrual cycles. They should also contact a doctor if they are finding it difficult to manage their blood glucose levels throughout their menstrual cycle.

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