Symptomatic diabetic neuropathy has been found to be associated with hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis hyperfunction, but no data are available about HPA activity in diabetic patients with asymptomatic autonomic imbalance. To evaluate HPA axis activity in patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus (T2DM) in relation to the presence or the absence of subclinical parasympathetic or sympathetic neuronal dysfunction, we performed an observational study on 59 consecutive type 2 diabetic patients without chronic complications and/or symptoms of neuropathy or hypercortisolism. The following were measured: serum cortisol at 08:00 am and at midnight (F8 and F24, respectively), post-dexamethasone suppression cortisol, 24-hour urinary free cortisol (UFC), and morning corticotropin (ACTH). Deep-breathing (DB) and LS (LS) autonomic tests were performed to assess the parasympathetic function; postural hypotension test was performed to evaluate sympathetic activity. Patients were subdivided into 4 groups: subjects with parasympathetic failure (group A), sympathetic failure (group B), both para- and sympathetic failure (group C), and without autonomic failure (group D). Hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal activity was increased in group A compared with group D (UFC, 48.6 +/- 21.4 vs 21.6 +/- 9.8 microg/24 h, P < .0001; ACTH, 27.0 +/- 8.6 vs 15.7 +/- 5.7 pg/dL, P < .01; F8, 20.4 +/- 4.5 vs 13.6 +/- 3.8 microg/dL, P < .05; post-dexamethasone suppression cortisol, 1.2 +/- 0.4 vs 0.8 +/- 0.6 microg/dL, P < .05, respectively) and group B (UFC, 26.3 +/- 11.0 microg/24 h, P < .0001; ACTH, 19.9 +/- 8.0 pg/dL, P < .05). Regression analysis showed that UFC levels were significantly associated with the deep-breathing test (beta = -0.40, P = .004) and tended to be associated with the lying-to-standing test (beta = -0.26, P = .065), whereas body mass index, glycated hemoglobin, and duration of disease were not. Type 2 diabetic patients with asymptomatic parasympathetic derangement have increased activity of HPA axis, related to the degree of the neuronal dysfunction.