People living with type 2 diabetes are at risk of developing a lung condition, latest research presented at the Diabetes UK Professional Conference 2023 has reported.

Academics have now confirmed that lung disorders should be seen as a severe complication of type 2 diabetes.

Prior research has found a link between type 2 diabetes and lung disease, fibrosis and pneumonia.

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.

In the largest ever genetic study led by Professor Inga Prokopenko, the researchers explore how genes affect blood sugar levels and health outcomes.

They did this by examining data from a diverse group of nearly 500,000 participants of 17 major studies, including the UK Biobank.

The team measured lung function by using two common spirometry tests used to diagnose lung conditions.

According to the analysis, high blood sugar levels in people with type 2 diabetes directly impaired lung function.

For example, modelling of the study data 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.

With respiratory disease the third biggest cause of death in England, and hospital admissions for respiratory diseases in England and Wales doubling over the last 20 years, the findings highlight the need for healthcare professionals to be vigilant to lung complications in people with type 2 diabetes.

Diagnosing and treating lung disorders early could potentially save the lives of thousands of people with type 2 diabetes.

Inga Prokopenko, Professor of e-One health and co-Director of 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.”

Dr Ben Jones, senior author of the investigation from Imperial College London, noted: “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 Marika Kaakinen, senior author on the project from the University of Surrey, highlighted: “Our study highlights the power of large-scale efforts, such as the UK Biobank and others around the globe, in identifying the population-level impact of seemingly small changes to blood sugar levels.

“This is important for both individuals and for health care systems in preventing the complications of type 2 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.”

She added: “Lung conditions can be life-changing and life-limiting, and it is crucial that healthcare professionals are aware of the impact of high blood sugar levels on lung health. Research must now investigate how best to prevent, monitor and treat lung disorders in people with type 2 diabetes.

“This could help stem the rising number of lung-related hospital admissions and potentially save thousands of lives.”

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