Several studies from the U.K. and the U.S. have shown that retinopathy was present at diagnosis of non-insulin dependent diabetes mellitus (NIDDM) indicating the likelihood of a latent phase of hyperglycaemia for a long period. This study looked for the prevalence of retinopathy at diagnosis of NIDDM in South Indian subjects who have a fairly high prevalence of diabetes and also a high rate of undetected diabetes. One thousand NIDDM subjects with varying duration of diabetes underwent detailed ophthalmoscopic examination for retinopathy. It was noted that the prevalence of retinopathy increased linearly with duration of diabetes. Among the 60 newly diagnosed NIDDM, 4 (6.7%) subjects had background diabetic retinopathy. Using a weighted linear regression analysis with percentage of retinopathy in relation to duration, it was estimated that hyperglycaemia could have been present 4.1 years prior to the diagnosis of NIDDM. Although the prevalence of retinopathy at diagnosis in South Indian NIDDM was lower than the other reported values, in view of the high prevalence of diabetes in Indians, a large number of patients would have the risk of microangiopathy even before diagnosis of diabetes is made.