A recent study conducted by the University of Manchester and King’s College in London, United Kingdom, suggests that blood vessel damage—one of the symptoms of diabetes—appears before glucose levels rise. Currently, high glucose levels are the only accepted symptom for diagnosing type 2 diabetes, but the results suggest that this criterion should change.

The study observed young women with different risk factors for type 2 diabetes. Researchers analyzed their biochemical markers in the blood before their glucose levels entered the prediabetes stage.

The scientists found that many of these women had blood vessel damage before high blood glucose was detected. These impaired blood vessels can cause the heart, nerves, eyes, and kidneys to function less effectively, possibly leading to severe long-term diabetes complications.

The damage came from changes in type of blood fat metabolites, which make up fats in the body. Changes in amino acids and Vitamin D were also detected. According to the study, these blood fat metabolites serve as an excellent warning sign of developing diabetes—before a change in glucose is found.

Professor Kennedy Cruickshank, lead author of the study, says the method for diagnosing type 2 diabetes needs to be changed based on these findings: “The current method of categorizing type 2 diabetes solely by a patient’s glucose level means that many will already have suffered blood vessel damage and will experience poorer outcomes.”

Dr. Simon Anderson, co-author of the study, comments on the long-term goal for effecting change in type 2 diabetes diagnosis: “We aim to identify a biomarker or a disorder in a chemical pathway that is linked to blood vessel health and subsequent diabetes. Ultimately this might translate into a specific blood test to identify people at risk of type 2 diabetes early on but most importantly, it may allow advice on lifestyle modification at an earlier stage to reduce the long-term impact of diabetes.”

If further research confirms these findings, this new way to detect diabetes earlier may help prevent the damage that untreated symptoms can do.

To learn more about type 2 diabetes:

Insulin Therapy in Early Type 2 Diabetes
Can Type 2 Diabetes Turn into Type 1?
Type 2 Diabetes is Often Diagnosed Late