How Metformin Acts in PCOS Pregnant Women

Insights into insulin secretion and peripheral action at each trimester of gestation

  1. Maurizio Guido, PHD1
  1. 1Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore, Rome, Italy
  2. 2OASI Institute for Research, Troina, Italy
  1. Corresponding author: Daniela Romualdi, danielaromualdi{at}
  1. A.L. and M.G. contributed equally to this study.


OBJECTIVE Metformin has been reported to reduce the risk of gestational diabetes (GD) in women with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). However, little is known about the mechanisms of action of this drug during pregnancy. In the attempt to fill this gap, we performed a prospective longitudinal study providing a detailed examination of glucose and insulin metabolism in pregnant women with PCOS undergoing metformin therapy.

RESEARCH DESIGN AND METHODS We enrolled 60 women with PCOS who conceived while undergoing metformin treatment. An oral glucose tolerance test and a euglycemic-hyperinsulinemic clamp were performed at each trimester of gestation in 47 ongoing pregnancies.

RESULTS Twenty-two of the study subjects had development of GD despite the treatment. At baseline, insulin sensitivity was comparable between women who had development of GD and women who did not. A progressive decline in this parameter occurred in all subjects, independently of the trimester of GD diagnosis. Insulin secretion was significantly higher during the first trimester in patients with an early failure of metformin treatment. Women with third trimester GD and women with no GD exhibited a significant increase in insulin output as gestation proceeded. All newborns were healthy and only one case of macrosomia was observed.

CONCLUSIONS Women with PCOS who enter pregnancy in a condition of severe hyperinsulinemia have development of GD earlier, independently of metformin treatment. The physiologic deterioration of insulin sensitivity is not affected by the drug and does not predict the timing and severity of the glycemic imbalance. Despite the high incidence of GD observed, the drug itself or the intensive monitoring probably accounted for the good neonatal outcome.


  • Received October 10, 2012.
  • Accepted December 4, 2012.

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  1. Diabetes Care vol. 36 no. 6 1477-1482
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