We determined the plasma concentration of immunoreactive vascular endothelial growth factor (IR-VEGF) and searched for a relationship between it and the degree of microangiopathy. The plasma VEGF level was measured using an enzyme immunoassay in 110 non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus (NIDDM) patients with varying degrees of nephropathy or retinopathy (RP) and in 39 healthy controls and 30 nondiabetic patients for comparison. One fourth of the control subjects, 60% of whom were currently smokers, had plasma levels of IR-VEGF higher than the lower limit (15.6 pg/mL) of detection for this assay, whereas this was the case in half of the NIDDM patients. Plasma IR-VEGF was detectable in all patients with cerebral infarction, chronic renal failure, and severe infection, suggesting that tissue hypoxia might be a common cause for the elevation of plasma VEGF in these disorders. The prevalence of measurable plasma IR-VEGF levels increased in parallel with increases in the urinary albumin excretion rate ([UAER] 35.1% for UAER <30 mg/24 h, 54.8% for UAER 30 to 300 mg/24 h, and 61.3% for UAER >300 mg/24 h; P < .05 v UAER <30 mg/24 h). The mean measurable plasma concentration tended to increase with increasing UAER. However, there was no such correlation with the severity of RP. Smoking caused an acute increase of plasma IR-VEGF in only 22.6% (12 of 53) of the patients with a smoking habit. In conclusion, these findings suggest that circulating IR-VEGF may be linked to the progression of nephropathy, and smoking may facilitate this process by causing tissue hypoxia in susceptible patients.