It is important for diabetes to be diagnosed early so it can be controlled and complications can be avoided.
Diabetes is diagnosed by a blood test. Most people with type 1 diabetes and some with type 2 diabetes will present with symptoms of diabetes such as increased thirst, urination and tiredness. Some people will also have signs of slow healing of wounds or persistent infections. However, many people with type 2 diabetes have no symptoms at all.
A blood test is taken from a vein and sent to a pathology lab. The tests done can include:
- a fasting sugar (glucose) test - fasting is required for at least eight hours, such as eating or drinking overnight
- a random glucose test taken anytime during the day
- an oral glucose tolerance test (OGTT) - where a patient who has fasted drinks a sugary drink and then has a blood test done 1 and then 2 hours later
The patient needs to eat and drink adequate (150 grams a day) of carbohydrates (starchy foods) for 3 days before the glucose tolerance test. The pathology company doing the test can give you more information on what is required to achieve this.
Another blood test that can diagnose diabetes is the HbA1c test, which measures the percentage of haemoglobin molecules (the molecules that makes red blood cells red) in the blood that have a sugar molecule attached to them.
HbA1c test explanation video
Video provided by Lab Tests Online
Can diabetes be diagnosed with a blood glucose meter or urine test?
A diagnosis of diabetes should not be made only by using a blood glucose meter and finger prick, or by urine glucose test. Although your doctor may take a blood test with a finger prick in the consulting room, you will still need a further blood test sent to pathology to confirm the diagnosis.
How will my doctor know which type of diabetes it is?
As an adult, it can sometimes be difficult to distinguish between type 1 diabetes and type 2 diabetes. Your doctor will have to go on the history and severity of the symptoms, then confirm with further blood tests if type 1 diabetes is suspected.
Your doctor may also check for ketones in your blood or urine which can help with the diagnosis. Ketones can be a sign that your body is under significant stress (and is usually associated with rapid weight loss).
There are other tests which can help to determine the type of diabetes, such as insulin levels and certain antibodies in the blood, but these can take several weeks to confirm.
In the meantime, it is important that you keep in contact with your doctor and monitor your blood glucose levels if instructed to do so. If you are unwell your doctor may refer you to a hospital or specialist immediately for treatment.
What if my blood test is not normal, but not diabetes either?
Some people will have a fasting blood level that is above the normal range, but not high enough to be diabetes. In this situation your doctor may order a glucose tolerance test.
Pre-diabetes is a condition in which blood glucose levels are higher than normal, but not high enough to be diagnosed as type 2 diabetes. It is also referred to as impaired fasting glucose (IFG) or impaired glucose tolerance (IGT) and may need further blood tests to monitor whether there has been progression onto diabetes at a later date.
Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.
Last reviewed: July 2018