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Clin Endocrinol (Oxf). 1998 Jul;49(1):91-9.

Polycystic ovaries and associated metabolic abnormalities in Indian subcontinent Asian women.

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  • 1Division of Gastroenterology, Endocrinology and Metabolism, St. George's Hospital Medical School, London, UK.



To determine the prevalence of polycystic ovaries (PCO) in Asian women living in England who are of Indian subcontinent origin or ancestry and to investigate the relationship between the presence of PCO and/or non-insulin dependent diabetes mellitus (NIDDM) and insulin sensitivity and other metabolic parameters.


A random sample of Indian subcontinent Asian women was obtained from the lists of local General Practitioners and a translating service. These women were invited to attend for a medical history questionnaire, examination, venous blood sample for hormonal assessment and transvaginal ovarian ultrasonography. Groups of women without PCO or NIDDM, with NIDDM but not PCO, with PCO but not NIDDM and with both NIDDM and PCO were drawn at random from this population and from Indian subcontinent Asian women attending the Diabetes Unit. They underwent further studies, including measurement of insulin sensitivity using a short intravenous insulin tolerance test.


212 Indian subcontinent Asian women aged 18-40 took part in the initial study. Insulin sensitivity was measured in 13 women without PCO or NIDDM, 13 women with NIDDM but not PCO, 15 women with PCO but not NIDDM and 12 women with both NIDDM and PCO.


The main outcome measures were prevalence of polycystic ovaries, clinical features of hyperandrogenism, fertility, blood pressure, serum gonadotrophins, testosterone and sex hormone binding globulin, fasting blood lipids, glucose and insulin, and insulin sensitivity.


The prevalence of PCO in Indian subcontinent Asian women was 52% (110/212). There were significant associations between PCO and menstrual irregularity; infertility; the Ferriman and Gallwey score for body hair distribution; the presence of acanthosis nigricans and the fasting blood glucose concentration. There were no differences between women with PCO and those with normal ovarian morphology with respect to systolic and diastolic blood pressure, fasting total, HDL and LDL cholesterol and triglyceride concentrations. The subgroup of women without PCO or NIDDM had the highest insulin sensitivity (189.1 +/- 46.4 mumol glucose/l/min, mean +/- SD) and the women with both PCO and NIDDM had the lowest insulin sensitivity (80.5 +/- 30.9 mumol glucose/l/min). There was no significant difference in insulin sensitivity between those with PCO but not NIDDM (125.0 +/- 59.5 mumol glucose/l/min) and those with NIDDM but not PCO (120.8 + 38.0 mumol glucose/l/min). The effects of NIDDM and PCO on insulin sensitivity were independent; the effect of PCO on insulin sensitivity was -60 mumol glucose/l/min (95% confidence interval -100 to -21, P = 0.004) and the effect of NIDDM was -68 mumol glucose/l/min (95% confidence interval -105 to -31, P < 0.001). There were no significant relationships between insulin sensitivity and fasting plasma insulin, systolic or diastolic blood pressure, fasting serum cholesterol or triglyceride.


The prevalence of polycystic ovaries in Indian subcontinent Asian women is very high and it has significant clinical associations. Polycystic ovaries and non-insulin dependent diabetes mellitus are associated with similar degrees of reduced insulin sensitivity in this population. Their effects are independent suggesting that these changes in insulin sensitivity involve different mechanisms. Polycystic ovaries unlike non-insulin dependent diabetes mellitus, are not associated with a defect in the secretion of insulin.

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