Lung disorders should be considered a complication of type 2 diabetes, say researchers who found high blood sugar levels implicated in lung damage.
Analysis of data from almost 500,000 participants of 17 major trials, including the UK Biobank study, showed that high blood sugar levels in people with type 2 diabetes directly impairs lung function.
Modelling of the data – controlling for factors such as smoking and sedentary behaviour – showed that an increase in average blood sugar levels from 4 mmol/L to 12 mmol/L, could result in a 20% drop in lung capacity and function.
Healthcare professionals should be vigilant to lung conditions as a potential complication of type 2 diabetes just as they are with kidney disease, heart attack and stroke, the researchers said presenting their findings at the Diabetes UK Professional Conference 2023.
And further research is now needed to investigate whether routine lung function monitoring should be added to diabetes checks.
It follows previous studies which had shown that lung conditions including restrictive lung disease, fibrosis and pneumonia, are more common in people with type 2 diabetes but it was not clear if diabetes was the cause or other factors were associated with the development of both conditions.
Previous studies have shown that lung conditions including restrictive lung disease, fibrosis and pneumonia, are more common in people with type 2 diabetes.
However, until now, it was not known whether type 2 diabetes directly causes damage to the lungs or if other factors, common to both type 2 diabetes and lung conditions, are responsible.
Diabetes UK raised concerns that the number of people living with overweight or obesity is fuelling the rise.
Study lead Inga Prokopenko, professor of e-One health and co-director of the People-Centred AI Institute at the University of Surrey, said: ‘Our research provides the first evidence that high blood sugar levels in type 2 diabetes, can directly lead to lung damage.
‘We hope our discovery that impaired lung function is a complication of type 2 diabetes is the first step towards increased awareness among healthcare professionals, leading to earlier diagnosis and treatment of lung conditions.’
Co-author Dr Ben Jones, from Imperial College London, added: ‘Type 2 diabetes prevalence is increasing and affecting people at younger and younger ages.
‘The quality of life of people living with diabetes can be affected by multiple complications, and our research suggests that lung disease is one under-recognised feature of this condition.
‘We hope that further studies will examine whether monitoring lung function should be part of routine care for people with diabetes.’
Dr Elizabeth Robertson, director of research at Diabetes UK, said: ‘This important research answers a long-standing question, revealing for the first time, that lung disorders can be a direct complication of type 2 diabetes.
‘These results are a reminder of the seriousness of type 2 diabetes, and the importance of supporting people with the condition to manage their blood sugar levels so that they can live well with the condition and avoid future complications.
‘Research must now investigate how best to prevent, monitor and treat lung disorders in people with type 2 diabetes.’