The only way you can find out if you or a loved one has diabetes is from blood tests that measure you blood glucose (sugar) levels. These can be arranged through your GP.
A diagnosis of diabetes is always confirmed by laboratory results. You’ll usually get the results of your blood test back in a few days. If you have symptoms that came on quickly and you’ve been taken into hospital, the results should come back in an hour or two.
A finger prick test using a home testing kit may show you have high blood sugar levels but won't confirm you have diabetes.
A normal blood test result will show you don't have diabetes. But the result will also show if you have diabetes or are at risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
Signs and symptoms of diabetes
Anyone can develop diabetes. That’s why it’s important to get tested if you notice any of the signs or symptoms. These aren’t always easy to spot. In fact, type 2 diabetes is often diagnosed through blood tests for other conditions or health issues instead.
Always talk to your doctor about any symptoms you’re worried about, even if you’ve been tested. If you’re not offered a test, you can ask for one .
If you feel very unwell or your symptoms have come on quickly seek an urgent appointment with your GP or call NHS 111.
Testing for type 1 and type 2 diabetes
If diabetes is confirmed by the results of a blood test the type of diabetes you have is usually determined by factors like weight , age at diagnosis, family history and how quickly any symptoms came on.
The test results can also indicate if you are at risk of developing type 2 diabetes even if you don’t have it now.
If you’re being tested for type 1 diabetes then further blood tests can check your blood ketone levels. Following this you may be sent to hospital for further assessment.
We will explain below the different blood tests that could be used to diagnose your diabetes. Your doctor will ask you about any symptoms you have and will then decide which type of blood test to use.
Having blood tests doesn't need to be worrying, they’re straightforward and shouldn’t take very long. Depending on the test you have you may be required to fast beforehand. If you do need to fast, a healthcare professional will let you know in advance.
Non fasting blood tests
An HbA1c test is the main blood test used to diagnose diabetes. It tests your average blood sugar levels for the last two to three months. You don’t need to prepare for a HbA1c . It’s a quick and simple test where a small amount of blood is taken from a vein in your arm. This is different to a finger-prick test, which is a snapshot of your blood sugar levels at that moment.
You’ll normally get the test results in a few days. From these results, your healthcare professional will be able to see if you have diabetes. If you didn’t have any of the symptoms of diabetes before you were tested, you’ll need to have the test again to confirm the result.
You have diabetes if your HbA1c level is 48mmol/mol or above..
You are at risk of developing type 2 diabetes (often known as prediabetes) if your HbA1c is between 42 and 48mmol/mol.
Random blood glucose test
If you have severe symptoms of diabetes, you may have a random blood test at any time of the day. This is a quick test, through a finger-prick or a vein in your arm.
If you have a finger-prick test, you’ll get the results straight away. If you have a blood test through a vein in your arm, you’ll get the results in a few days.
You or your loved one have diabetes if your blood glucose levels are 11.1mmol/l or more - regardless of how recently you ate.
But any diagnosis from a finger prick test will need to be confirmed by a blood test sent to a laboratory for results.
Fasting blood tests
Fasting blood sugar test
This is another blood test used to diagnose diabetes. It is sometimes called a fasting plasma glucose test or FPG for short. A nurse will take some blood from a vein in your arm.
You’ll need to fast for at least eight hours before, without eating or drinking anything apart from water. This is to stop anything interfering with the results. Fasting overnight and taking the test in the morning is the easiest option if available.
You’ll get the results in a few days.
You’ll be diagnosed with diabetes if your glucose levels are 7mmol/l or more.
This blood test shows if your body is having problems handling the sugar you get from food and drinks. It is sometimes called an Oral Glucose Tolerance Test or OGTT for short.
This test is used routinely when diagnosing gestational diabetes.
There are two parts. First, you have a fasting test. A nurse will take some of your blood from a vein in your arm and your blood glucose levels will be checked. You’ll then have a sweet drink, which contains a standard amount of sugar. This is to see if your body can maintain a normal blood sugar level. Two hours later, the nurse will take some mor of your blood and check your blood sugar levels again.
You normally get the results in a few days. They’ll show different levels for the fasting test and the second test you did two hours later.
If you are pregnant, you have gestational diabetes if:
your fasting glucose is 5.6mmol/l or more (the first test)
your 2-hour glucose is 7.8mmol/l or more (the second test)
We have more information about gestational diabetes.
Other information about testing and diagnosis
A urine test for glucose on its own can’t diagnose diabetes. It will show your doctor if there is any sugar in your urine, not how much or the possible cause.
Testing for diabetes at home
Home testing kits bought over the counter can’t diagnose diabetes. Neither can testing equipment used by people with diabetes, like blood glucose meters. They will show only your blood sugar levels at the moment you test.
An optician can’t diagnose diabetes. But during an eye test, they can spot eye damage that can affect people with diabetes called diabetic retinopathy. They will then advise you to see your doctor to get tested.
Type 2 diabetes screening by pharmacists
Some pharmacists offer short appointments where you can find out your risk of developing type 2 diabetes. You usually pay a fee for this service, which involves answering a series of questions.
A diabetes screening test does not diagnose you and is not completely accurate. Instead, it can be used as a guide. Depending on the results from this screening, you or your loved one may be advised to seek further medical help from your local GP. If you don’t appear to be at risk at the time of screening, this doesn’t mean you aren’t still at risk of developing type 2 in the future. If you later find signs of diabetes it’s worth being screened again, or being tested for diabetes.
Some pharmacists offer blood tests to diagnose diabetes, but you’ll need to pay for these unlike having them through your doctor.
Check your risk
If you don’t want to attend a diabetes screening test but want to know your risk of developing type 2 diabetes, you can check your risk for free by using our online risk score.
Diagnosed with diabetes – what next
Being told you have diabetes or prediabetes will probably come as a shock. Being diagnosed with a long-term condition feels different for everyone. You might not know how to cope or what to do next. But if you get the right treatment and support, you can manage it and live well with diabetes.
It’s usually quite difficult to take everything in and remember it. So think about asking a family member or friend to go along with you to meet your healthcare team and make a note of any questions you might have.
Often, your GP will start speaking to you about treatment and the steps you can take to start managing diabetes effectively. They’ll probably want to discuss your lifestyle habits, including what you eat and what exercise you do. It’s important to consider whether you smoke and the amount of alcohol you drink as well. Knowing all this vital information can help them identify what steps need to be taken by you to live with diabetes safely.
Our information - where to start
If it’s your child who’s just been diagnosed, we have lots of information to help support you and your child. You can also get in touch with our helpline. Whether it’s you, or someone you know who’s been diagnosed, we’re used to talking to people about all sorts of things.
You can find and save pages that are useful to you like recipes and other information using Diabetes and Me.
If you or a loved one have been diagnosed, you'll find video tips on eating and looking after diabetes every day on our free Learning Zone.
If you’re at risk of getting type 2 diabetes
Your blood tests may show high levels of blood sugar, but not high enough to be diagnosed with diabetes. So you don’t have diabetes, but you’re at high risk of developing type 2 diabetes in the future.
We have more information about reducing your risk of type 2 diabetes