Lung problems should now be seen as a potential complication of type 2 diabetes, a charity has warned.
Diabetes UK said new research shows lung disorders can be a direct complication of the condition, alongside well known risks such as kidney disease, heart attack and stroke.
Obesity is a major driver of type 2 diabetes, with research suggesting that obese people are up to 80 times more likely to develop the condition than those with a healthy body mass index (BMI) of less than 22.
More than five million people in the UK have diabetes and 90% of these have type 2.
Now, a new study has found that high blood sugar levels in type 2 diabetes could play a causal role in lung disorders.
The study, presented at the Diabetes UK Professional Conference and funded by Diabetes UK, examined how genes affect blood sugar levels.
The findings back up previous studies showing that lung conditions, such as fibrosis, restrictive lung disease (where the lungs cannot hold the usual capacity of air) and pneumonia are more common in people with type 2 diabetes.
Professor Inga Prokopenko at the University of Surrey, on behalf of the Meta-Analysis of Glucose and Insulin-related Traits Consortium (MAGIC) consortium, analysed data from nearly 500,000 participants of 17 major studies, including the UK Biobank, Diabetes UK said.
She looked at lung function using standard tests and employed statistical techniques to examine whether high blood sugar levels was linked to impaired lung function, and whether one caused the other.
The analysis, which has not yet been peer-reviewed, found that high blood sugar levels in people with type 2 diabetes directly impaired lung function.
For example, modelling suggested 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.
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.
“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.”
Prof Prokopenko 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, 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 Erika Kennington, head of research and innovation at Asthma and Lung UK, said the study was interesting, adding: “While further research is needed to better understand this potential link, understanding the effect diabetes can have on lung function is incredibly important.”