To determine whether abnormal left ventricular diastolic function is present at an early stage of non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus (NIDDM), left ventricular diastolic filling was evaluated by pulsed doppler echocardiography in 16 normotensive patients with NIDDM of short duration (1.8 +/- 1 years, mean +/- SD) and no evidence of microangiopathy, and in 16 healthy volunteers comparable for age, body mass index, and sex distribution. All patients showed normal systolic function. The interventricular septum thickness, left atrial diameter, and left ventricular mass index were increased in the diabetic as compared with the control group (p < 0.01, p < 0.01, and p < 0.02, respectively). Isovolumic relaxation time and atrial peak filling velocity were greater in diabetic patients (p < 0.001, and p < 0.01, respectively), whereas early to atrial peak filling velocity ratio was significantly reduced (p < 0.05). This study demonstrates that an impairment of left ventricular diastolic function occurs early in the natural history of NIDDM, and that this abnormality is unlikely to be related to clinical evidence of microangiopathic complications.