AskDefine | Define diabetes

Dictionary Definition

diabetes n : any of several metabolic disorders marked by excessive urination and persistent thirst

User Contributed Dictionary



  • /ˌdaɪəˈbiːtiːz/, /%daI@"bi:ti:z/


From the classical Greek transliterated as "diabainein," meaning "to pass through,", siphon, it is from the participle of this verb, and therefore means passing through.  This refers to the excessive amounts of urine produced by sufferers.


  1. Diabetes Type I The inability of the body to produce the human hormone insulin.
  2. Diabetes Type II The inability of the body to metabolize the human hormone insulin
  3. Diabetes Insipidus Usually a disorder of the pituitary gland, leading to a form of Type II diabetes.


Related terms



  • Hyphenation: di‧a‧be‧tes
  • Often pronounced /ˈdiɑˌbeːtːes/.
  • /ˈdiɑˌbetes/ would be consistent with the spelling, and thus perceived as more correct by some.


  1. diabetes (type I)
  2. diabetes (type II)


Derived terms

Extensive Definition

Diabetes mellitus ( or /ˌdaɪəˈbiːtəs/, /məˈlaɪtəs/ or /ˈmɛlətəs/), often referred to simply as diabetes (), is a syndrome characterized by disordered metabolism and abnormally high blood sugar (hyperglycaemia) resulting from insufficient levels of the hormone insulin. The characteristic symptoms are excessive urine production (polyuria) due to high blood glucose levels, excessive thirst and increased fluid intake (polydipsia) attempting to compensate for increased urination, blurred vision due to high blood glucose effects on the eye's optics, unexplained weight loss, and lethargy. These symptoms are likely to be less apparent if the blood sugar is only mildly elevated.
The World Health Organization recognizes three main forms of diabetes mellitus: type 1, type 2, and gestational diabetes (occurring during pregnancy), which have different causes and population distributions. While, ultimately, all forms are due to the beta cells of the pancreas being unable to produce sufficient insulin to prevent hyperglycemia, the causes are different. Type 1 diabetes is usually due to autoimmune destruction of the pancreatic beta cells. Type 2 diabetes is characterized by insulin resistance in target tissues. This causes a need for abnormally high amounts of insulin and diabetes develops when the beta cells cannot meet this demand. Gestational diabetes is similar to type 2 diabetes in that it involves insulin resistance; the hormones of pregnancy can cause insulin resistance in women genetically predisposed to developing this condition.
Gestational diabetes typically resolves with delivery of the child, however types 1 and 2 diabetes are chronic conditions.


The term diabetes, without qualification, usually refers to diabetes mellitus, which is associated with excessive sweet urine (known as "glycosuria") but there are several rarer conditions also named diabetes. The most common of these is diabetes insipidus in which the urine is not sweet (insipidus meaning "without taste" in Latin); it can be caused by either kidney (nephrogenic DI) or pituitary gland (central DI) damage.
The principal two idiopathic forms of diabetes mellitus are known as types 1 and 2. The term "type 1 diabetes" has universally replaced several former terms, including childhood-onset diabetes, juvenile diabetes, and insulin-dependent diabetes (IDDM). Likewise, the term "type 2 diabetes" has replaced several former terms, including adult-onset diabetes, obesity-related diabetes, and non-insulin-dependent diabetes (NIDDM). Beyond these two types, there is no agreed-upon standard nomenclature. Various sources have defined "type 3 diabetes" as, among others, gestational diabetes, insulin-resistant type 1 diabetes (or "double diabetes"), type 2 diabetes which has progressed to require injected insulin, and latent autoimmune diabetes of adults (or LADA or "type 1.5" diabetes.) There is also maturity onset diabetes of the young (MODY) which is a group of several single gene disorders with strong family histories that present as type 2 diabetes before 30 years of age.

Type 1 diabetes mellitus

Type 1 diabetes mellitus is characterized by loss of the insulin-producing beta cells of the islets of Langerhans in the pancreas, leading to a deficiency of insulin. The main cause of this beta cell loss is a T-cell mediated autoimmune attack.
Type 1 treatment must be continued indefinitely. Treatment does not significantly impair normal activities, if sufficient patient training, awareness, appropriate care, discipline in testing and dosing of insulin is taken. However, treatment is burdensome for patients, and insulin is replaced in a non-physiological manner, and is therefore far from ideal. The average glucose level for the type 1 patient should be as close to normal (80–120 mg/dl, 4–6 mmol/l) as is safely possible. Some physicians suggest up to 140–150 mg/dl (7-7.5 mmol/l) for those having trouble with lower values, such as frequent hypoglycemic events. Values above 200 mg/dl (10 mmol/l) is sometimes accompanied by discomfort and frequent urination leading to dehydration. Values above 300 mg/dl (15 mmol/l) usually require treatment and may lead to ketoacidosis, although is not immediately life-threatening. However, low levels of blood glucose, called hypoglycemia, may lead to seizures or episodes of unconsciousness and absolutely must be treated immediately.

Type 2 diabetes mellitus

Type 2 diabetes mellitus is characterized differently due to insulin resistance or reduced insulin sensitivity, combined with reduced insulin secretion. The defective responsiveness of body tissues to insulin almost certainly involves the insulin receptor in cell membranes. In the early stage the predominant abnormality is reduced insulin sensitivity, characterized by elevated levels of insulin in the blood. At this stage hyperglycemia can be reversed by a variety of measures and medications that improve insulin sensitivity or reduce glucose production by the liver. As the disease progresses the impairment of insulin secretion worsens, and therapeutic replacement of insulin often becomes necessary.
There are numerous theories as to the exact cause and mechanism in type 2 diabetes. Central obesity (fat concentrated around the waist in relation to abdominal organs, but not subcutaneous fat) is known to predispose individuals for insulin resistance. Abdominal fat is especially active hormonally, secreting a group of hormones called adipokines that may possibly impair glucose tolerance. Obesity is found in approximately 55% of patients diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. Other factors include aging (about 20% of elderly patients in North America have diabetes) and family history (type 2 is much more common in those with close relatives who have had it). In the last decade, type 2 diabetes has increasingly begun to affect children and adolescents, likely in connection with the increased prevalence of childhood obesity seen in recent decades in some places.
Type 2 diabetes may go unnoticed for years because visible symptoms are typically mild, non-existent or sporadic, and usually there are no ketoacidotic episodes. However, severe long-term complications can result from unnoticed type 2 diabetes, including renal failure due to diabetic nephropathy, vascular disease (including coronary artery disease), vision damage due to diabetic retinopathy, loss of sensation or pain due to diabetic neuropathy, and liver damage from non-alcoholic steatohepatitis.
Type 2 diabetes is usually first treated by increasing physical activity, decreasing carbohydrate intake, and losing weight. These can restore insulin sensitivity even when the weight loss is modest, for example around 5 kg (10 to 15 lb), most especially when it is in abdominal fat deposits. It is sometimes possible to achieve long-term, satisfactory glucose control with these measures alone. However, the underlying tendency to insulin resistance is not lost, and so attention to diet, exercise, and weight loss must continue. The usual next step, if necessary, is treatment with oral antidiabetic drugs. Insulin production is initially only moderately impaired in type 2 diabetes, so oral medication (often used in various combinations) can be used to improve insulin production (e.g., sulfonylureas), to regulate inappropriate release of glucose by the liver and attenuate insulin resistance to some extent (e.g., metformin), and to substantially attenuate insulin resistance (e.g., thiazolidinediones). According to one study, overweight patients treated with metformin compared with diet alone, had relative risk reductions of 32% for any diabetes endpoint, 42% for diabetes related death and 36% for all cause mortality and stroke. Oral medication may eventually fail due to further impairment of beta cell insulin secretion. At this point, insulin therapy is necessary to maintain normal or near normal glucose levels.

Gestational diabetes

Gestational diabetes mellitus (GDM) resembles type 2 diabetes in several respects, involving a combination of relatively inadequate insulin secretion and responsiveness. It occurs in about 2%–5% of all pregnancies and may improve or disappear after delivery. Gestational diabetes is fully treatable but requires careful medical supervision throughout the pregnancy. About 20%–50% of affected women develop type 2 diabetes later in life.
Even though it may be transient, untreated gestational diabetes can damage the health of the fetus or mother. Risks to the baby include macrosomia (high birth weight), congenital cardiac and central nervous system anomalies, and skeletal muscle malformations. Increased fetal insulin may inhibit fetal surfactant production and cause respiratory distress syndrome. Hyperbilirubinemia may result from red blood cell destruction. In severe cases, perinatal death may occur, most commonly as a result of poor placental profusion due to vascular impairment. Induction may be indicated with decreased placental function. A cesarean section may be performed if there is marked fetal distress or an increased risk of injury associated with macrosomia, such as shoulder dystocia.
A 2008 study completed in the U.S. found that more American women are entering pregnancy with preexisting diabetes. In fact the rate of diabetes in expectant mothers has more than doubled in the past 6 years. This is particularly problematic as diabetes raises the risk of complications during pregnancy, as well as increasing the potential that the children of diabetic mothers will also become diabetic in the future.

Other types

There are several rare causes of diabetes mellitus that do not fit into type 1, type 2, or gestational diabetes; attempts to classify them remain controversial. Some cases of diabetes are caused by the body's tissue receptors not responding to insulin (even when insulin levels are normal, which is what separates it from type 2 diabetes); this form is very uncommon. Genetic mutations (autosomal or mitochondrial) can lead to defects in beta cell function. Abnormal insulin action may also have been genetically determined in some cases. Any disease that causes extensive damage to the pancreas may lead to diabetes (for example, chronic pancreatitis and cystic fibrosis). Diseases associated with excessive secretion of insulin-antagonistic hormones can cause diabetes (which is typically resolved once the hormone excess is removed). Many drugs impair insulin secretion and some toxins damage pancreatic beta cells. The ICD-10 (1992) diagnostic entity, malnutrition-related diabetes mellitus (MRDM or MMDM, ICD-10 code E12), was deprecated by the World Health Organization when the current taxonomy was introduced in 1999.
Various hereditary conditions may feature diabetes, for example myotonic dystrophy and Friedreich's ataxia. Wolfram's syndrome is an autosomal recessive neurodegenerative disorder that first becomes evident in childhood. It consists of diabetes insipidus, diabetes mellitus, optic atrophy, and deafness, hence the acronym DIDMOAD.


Insulin is the principal hormone that regulates uptake of glucose from the blood into most cells (primarily muscle and fat cells, but not central nervous system cells). Therefore deficiency of insulin or the insensitivity of its receptors plays a central role in all forms of diabetes mellitus.
Much of the carbohydrate in food is converted within a few hours to the monosaccharide glucose, the principal carbohydrate found in blood and used by the body as fuel. Insulin is released into the blood by beta cells (β-cells), found in the Islets of Langerhans in the pancreas, in response to rising levels of blood glucose after eating. Insulin is used by about two-thirds of the body's cells to absorb glucose from the blood for use as fuel, for conversion to other needed molecules, or for storage. Insulin is also the principal control signal for conversion of glucose to glycogen for internal storage in liver and muscle cells. Lowered glucose levels result both in the reduced release of insulin from the beta cells and in the reverse conversion of glycogen to glucose when glucose levels fall. This is mainly controlled by the hormone glucagon which acts in an opposite manner to insulin. Glucose thus recovered by the liver re-enters the bloodstream; muscle cells lack the necessary export mechanism.
Higher insulin levels increase some anabolic ("building up") processes such as cell growth and duplication, protein synthesis, and fat storage. Insulin (or its lack) is the principal signal in converting many of the bidirectional processes of metabolism from a catabolic to an anabolic direction, and vice versa. In particular, a low insulin level is the trigger for entering or leaving ketosis (the fat burning metabolic phase).
If the amount of insulin available is insufficient, if cells respond poorly to the effects of insulin (insulin insensitivity or resistance), or if the insulin itself is defective, then glucose will not be absorbed properly by those body cells that require it nor will it be stored appropriately in the liver and muscles. The net effect is persistent high levels of blood glucose, poor protein synthesis, and other metabolic derangements, such as acidosis.


The diagnosis of type 1 diabetes, and many cases of type 2, is usually prompted by recent-onset symptoms of excessive urination (polyuria) and excessive thirst (polydipsia), often accompanied by weight loss. These symptoms typically worsen over days to weeks; about a quarter of people with new type 1 diabetes have developed some degree of diabetic ketoacidosis by the time the diabetes is recognized. The diagnosis of other types of diabetes is usually made in other ways. These include ordinary health screening; detection of hyperglycemia during other medical investigations; and secondary symptoms such as vision changes or unexplainable fatigue. Diabetes is often detected when a person suffers a problem that is frequently caused by diabetes, such as a heart attack, stroke, neuropathy, poor wound healing or a foot ulcer, certain eye problems, certain fungal infections, or delivering a baby with macrosomia or hypoglycemia.
Diabetes mellitus is characterized by recurrent or persistent hyperglycemia, and is diagnosed by demonstrating any one of the following:


Diabetes screening is recommended for many people at various stages of life, and for those with any of several risk factors. The screening test varies according to circumstances and local policy, and may be a random blood glucose test, a fasting blood glucose test, a blood glucose test two hours after 75 g of glucose, or an even more formal glucose tolerance test. Many healthcare providers recommend universal screening for adults at age 40 or 50, and often periodically thereafter. Earlier screening is typically recommended for those with risk factors such as obesity, family history of diabetes, high-risk ethnicity (Hispanic, Native American, Afro-Caribbean, Pacific Island, and South Asian ancestry).
Many medical conditions are associated with diabetes and warrant screening. A partial list includes: high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol levels, coronary artery disease, past gestational diabetes, polycystic ovary syndrome, chronic pancreatitis, fatty liver, hemochromatosis, cystic fibrosis, several mitochondrial neuropathies and myopathies, myotonic dystrophy, Friedreich's ataxia, some of the inherited forms of neonatal hyperinsulinism. The risk of diabetes is higher with chronic use of several medications, including high-dose glucocorticoids, some chemotherapy agents (especially L-asparaginase), as well as some of the antipsychotics and mood stabilizers (especially phenothiazines and some atypical antipsychotics).
People with a confirmed diagnosis of diabetes are screened routinely for complications. This includes yearly urine testing for microalbuminuria and examination of the retina (retinal photography) for retinopathy. In the UK, screening for diabetic retinopathy has helped reduce the incidence of legal blindness since its implementation.


Type 1 diabetes risk is known to depend upon a genetic predisposition based on HLA types (particularly types DR3 and DR4), an unknown environmental trigger (suspected to be an infection, although none has proven definitive in all cases), and an uncontrolled autoimmune response that attacks the insulin producing beta cells. Some research has suggested that breastfeeding decreased the risk; various other nutritional risk factors are being studied, but no firm evidence has been found. Giving children 2000 IU of Vitamin D during their first year of life is associated with reduced risk of type 1 diabetes.
Children with antibodies but no overt diabetes treated with vitamin B-3 (niacin) had less than half the onset of diabetes incidence in a 7-year time span as the general population and even lower incidence relative to those with antibodies as above, but no vitamin B3.
Type 2 diabetes risk can be reduced in many cases by making changes in diet and increasing physical activity. The American Diabetes Association (ADA) recommends maintaining a healthy weight, getting at least 2½ hours of exercise per week (a brisk sustained walk appears sufficient), having a modest fat intake, and eating a good amount of fiber and whole grains. The ADA does not recommend alcohol consumption as a preventative, but it is interesting to note that moderate alcohol intake may reduce the risk (though heavy consumption clearly increases damage to body systems significantly). There is inadequate evidence that eating foods of low glycemic index is clinically helpful.
Some studies have shown delayed progression to diabetes in predisposed patients through prophylactic use of metformin, or valsartan. In patients on hydroxychloroquine for rheumatoid arthritis, incidence of diabetes was reduced by 77%. Breastfeeding might also be associated with the prevention of type 2 of the disease in mothers.

Treatment and management

Diabetes mellitus is currently a chronic disease, without a cure, and medical emphasis must necessarily be on managing/avoiding possible short-term as well as long-term diabetes-related problems. There is an exceptionally important role for patient education, dietetic support, sensible exercise, self glucose monitoring, with the goal of keeping both short-term blood glucose levels, and long term levels as well, within acceptable bounds. Careful control is needed to reduce the risk of long term complications. This is theoretically achievable with combinations of diet, exercise and weight loss (type 2), various oral diabetic drugs (type 2 only), and insulin use (type 1 and increasingly for type 2 not responding to oral medications). In addition, given the associated higher risks of cardiovascular disease, lifestyle modifications should be undertaken to control blood pressure and cholesterol by exercising more, smoking cessation, consuming an appropriate diet, wearing diabetic socks, and if necessary, taking any of several drugs to reduce pressure. Many Type 1 treatments include the combination use of regular or NPH insulin, and/or synthetic insulin analogs such as Humalog, Novolog or Apidra; the combination of Lantus/Levemir and Humalog, Novolog or Apidra. Another Type 1 treatment option is the use of the insulin pump with some of the most popular pump brands being: Cozmo, Animas, Medtronic Minimed, and Omnipod.
In countries using a general practitioner system, such as the United Kingdom, care may take place mainly outside hospitals, with hospital-based specialist care used only in case of complications, difficult blood sugar control, or research projects. In other circumstances, general practitioners and specialists share care of a patient in a team approach. Optometrists, podiatrists/chiropodists, dietitians, physiotherapists, clinical nurse specialists (eg, Certified Diabetes Educators and DSNs (Diabetic Specialist Nurse)), or nurse practitioners may jointly provide multidisciplinary expertise. In countries where patients must provide their own health care (i.e., the United States in the developed world), the impact of out-of-pocket costs of diabetic care can be high. In addition to the medications and supplies needed, patients are often advised to receive regular consultation from a physician (e.g., at least every three to six months).


Cures for type 1 diabetes

There is no practical cure now for type 1 diabetes. The fact that type 1 diabetes is due to the failure of one of the cell types of a single organ with a relatively simple function (i.e. the failure of the islets of Langerhans) has led to the study of several possible schemes to cure this form diabetes mostly by replacing the pancreas or just the beta cells. Only those type 1 diabetics who have received either a pancreas or a kidney-pancreas transplant (when they have developed diabetic nephropathy) and become insulin-independent may now be considered "cured" from their diabetes. A simultaneous pancreas-kidney transplant is a promising solution, showing similar or improved survival rates over a kidney transplant alone. Still, they generally remain on long-term immunosuppressive drugs and there is a possibility that the immune system will mount a host versus graft response against the transplanted organ. An alternative technique has been proposed to place transplanted beta cells in a semi-permeable container, isolating and protecting them from the immune system. Stem cell research has also been suggested as a potential avenue for a cure since it may permit regrowth of Islet cells which are genetically part of the treated individual, thus perhaps eliminating the need for immuno-suppressants.
Microscopic or nanotechnological approaches are under investigation as well, in one proposed case with implanted stores of insulin metered out by a rapid response valve sensitive to blood glucose levels. At least two approaches have been demonstrated in vitro. These are, in some sense, closed-loop insulin pumps.

Cures for type 2 diabetes

Type 2 diabetes can be cured by one type of gastric bypass surgery in 80-100% of severely obese patients. The effect is not due to weight loss because it usually occurs within days of surgery, which is before significant weight loss occurs. The pattern of secretion of gastrointestinal hormones is changed by the bypass and removal of the duodenum and proximal jejunum, which together form the upper (proximal) part of the small intestine. One hypothesis is that the proximal small intestine is dysfunctional in type 2 diabetes; its removal eliminates the source of an unknown hormone that contributes to insulin resistance. This surgery has been widely performed on morbidly obese patients and has the benefit of reducing the death rate from all causes by up to 40%. A small number of normal to moderately obese patients with type 2 diabetes have successfully undergone similar operations.


Patient education, understanding, and participation is vital since the complications of diabetes are far less common and less severe in people who have well-controlled blood sugar levels. Wider health problems accelerate the deleterious effects of diabetes. These include smoking, elevated cholesterol levels, obesity, high blood pressure, and lack of regular exercise. According to a study, women with high blood pressure have a threefold risk of developing diabetes.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that some of those with type 2 diabetes who exercise regularly, lose weight, and eat healthy diets may be able to keep some of the disease or some of the effects of the disease in 'remission.' Certainly these tips can help prevent people predisposed to type 2 diabetes and those at pre-diabetic stages from actually developing the disorder as it helps restore insulin sensitivity. However patients should talk to their doctors about this for real expectations before undertaking it (esp. to avoid hypoglycemia or other complications); few people actually seem to go into total 'remission,' but some may find they need less of their insulin medications since the body tends to have lower insulin requirements during and shortly following exercise. Regardless of whether it works that way or not for an individual, there are certainly other benefits to this healthy lifestyle for both diabetics and nondiabetics. The way diabetes is managed changes with age. Insulin production decreases because of age-related impairment of pancreatic beta cells. Additionally, insulin resistance increases because of the loss of lean tissue and the accumulation of fat, particularly intra-abdominal fat, and the decreased tissue sensitivity to insulin. Glucose tolerance progressively declines with age, leading to a high prevalence of type 2 diabetes and postchallenge hyperglycemia in the older population. Treatment goals for older patients with diabetes vary with the individual, and take into account health status, as well as life expectancy, level of dependence, and willingness to adhere to a treatment regimen.

Acute complications

Diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) is an acute and dangerous complication that is always a medical emergency. Lack of insulin causes the liver to turn fat into ketone bodies, a fuel mainly used by the brain. Elevated levels of ketone bodies in the blood decrease the blood's pH, leading to most of the symptoms of DKA. On presentation at hospital, the patient in DKA is typically dehydrated and is breathing rapidly and deeply. Abdominal pain is common and may be severe. The level of consciousness is typically normal until late in the process, when lethargy may progress to coma. Ketoacidosis can become severe enough to cause hypotension, shock, and death. Analysis of the urine reveals significant levels of ketone bodies present (which spill over from the blood when the kidneys filter blood). Prompt proper treatment usually results in full recovery, though death can result from inadequate or delayed treatment, or from complications. Ketoacidosis is much more common in type 1 diabetes than type 2. The hyperosmolar nonketotic state (HNS) is an acute complication with many symptoms in common with DKA, but an entirely different cause and different treatment. In a person with very high blood glucose levels (usually considered to be above 300 mg/dl (16 mmol/l)), water is drawn out of cells into the blood by osmosis and the kidneys dump glucose into the urine. This results in loss of water and an increase in blood osmolarity. If fluid is not replaced (by mouth or intravenously), the osmotic effect of high glucose levels combined with the loss of water will eventually lead to dehydration. The body's cells become progressively dehydrated as water is taken from them and excreted. Electrolyte imbalances are also common and dangerous. As with DKA, urgent medical treatment is necessary, especially volume replacement. Lethargy may ultimately progress to a coma, which is more common in type 2 diabetes than type 1. Hypoglycemia, or abnormally low blood glucose, is a complication of several diabetes treatments. It may develop if the glucose intake does not cover the treatment. The patient may become agitated, sweaty, and have many symptoms of sympathetic activation of the autonomic nervous system resulting in feelings similar to dread and immobilized panic. Consciousness can be altered or even lost in extreme cases, leading to coma, seizures, or even brain damage and death. In patients with diabetes, this may be caused by several factors, such as too much or incorrectly timed insulin, too much or incorrectly timed exercise (exercise decreases insulin requirements) or not enough food (specifically glucose-producing carbohydrates), but this is an over-simplification.
It is more accurate to note that iatrogenic hypoglycemia is typically the result of the interplay of absolute (or relative) insulin excess and compromised glucose counterregulation in type 1 and advanced type 2 diabetes. Decrements in insulin, increments in glucagon, and, absent the latter, increments in epinephrine stand high in the hierarchy of redundant glucose counterregulatory factors that normally prevent or rapidly correct hypoglycemia. In insulin-deficient diabetes (exogenous) insulin levels do not decrease as glucose levels fall, and the combination of deficient glucagon and epinephrine responses causes defective glucose counterregulation.
Furthermore, reduced sympathoadrenal responses can cause hypoglycemia unawareness. The concept of hypoglycemia-associated autonomic failure (HAAF) in diabetes posits that recent incidents of hypoglycemia causes both defective glucose counterregulation and hypoglycemia unawareness. By shifting glycemic thresholds for the sympathoadrenal (including epinephrine) and the resulting neurogenic responses to lower plasma glucose concentrations, antecedent hypoglycemia leads to a vicious cycle of recurrent hypoglycemia and further impairment of glucose counterregulation. In many cases (but not all), short-term avoidance of hypoglycemia reverses hypoglycemia unawareness in most affected patients, although this is easier in theory than it is in practice.
In most cases, hypoglycemia is treated with sugary drinks or food. In severe cases, an injection of glucagon (a hormone with the opposite effects of insulin) or an intravenous infusion of dextrose is used for treatment, but usually only if the person is unconscious. In hospitals, intravenous dextrose is often used.

Chronic complications

Chronic elevation of blood glucose level leads to damage of blood vessels (angiopathy). The endothelial cells lining the blood vessels take in more glucose than normal, since they don't depend on insulin. They then form more surface glycoproteins than normal, and cause the basement membrane to grow thicker and weaker. In diabetes, the resulting problems are grouped under "microvascular disease" (due to damage to small blood vessels) and "macrovascular disease" (due to damage to the arteries). The damage to small blood vessels leads to a microangiopathy, which can cause one or more of the following:
  • Diabetic retinopathy, growth of friable and poor-quality new blood vessels in the retina as well as macular edema (swelling of the macula), which can lead to severe vision loss or blindness. Retinal damage (from microangiopathy) makes it the most common cause of blindness among non-elderly adults in the US.
  • Diabetic neuropathy, abnormal and decreased sensation, usually in a 'glove and stocking' distribution starting with the feet but potentially in other nerves, later often fingers and hands. When combined with damaged blood vessels this can lead to diabetic foot (see below). Other forms of diabetic neuropathy may present as mononeuritis or autonomic neuropathy. Diabetic amyotrophy is muscle weakness due to neuropathy.
  • Diabetic nephropathy, damage to the kidney which can lead to chronic renal failure, eventually requiring dialysis. Diabetes mellitus is the most common cause of adult kidney failure worldwide in the developed world.
Macrovascular disease leads to cardiovascular disease, to which accelerated atherosclerosis is a contributor:
Diabetic foot, often due to a combination of neuropathy and arterial disease, may cause skin ulcer and infection and, in serious cases, necrosis and gangrene. It is why diabetics are prone to leg and foot infections and why it takes longer for them to heal from leg and foot wounds. It is the most common cause of adult amputation, usually of toes and or feet, in the developed world.
Carotid artery stenosis does not occur more often in diabetes, and there appears to be a lower prevalence of abdominal aortic aneurysm. However, diabetes does cause higher morbidity, mortality and operative risks with these conditions.
Diabetic encephalopathy is the increased cognitive decline and risk of dementia observed in diabetes. Various mechanisms are proposed, including alterations to the vascular supply of the brain and the interaction of insulin with the brain itself..


In 2000, according to the World Health Organization, at least 171 million people worldwide suffer from diabetes. Its incidence is increasing rapidly, and it is estimated that by the year 2030, this number will double. Diabetes mellitus occurs throughout the world, but is more common (especially type 2) in the more developed countries. The greatest increase in prevalence is, however, expected to occur in Asia and Africa, where most patients will likely be found by 2030. The increase in incidence of diabetes in developing countries follows the trend of urbanization and lifestyle changes, perhaps most importantly a "Western-style" diet. This has suggested an environmental (i.e., dietary) effect, but there is little understanding of the mechanism(s) at present, though there is much speculation, some of it most compellingly presented.
Diabetes is in the top 10, and perhaps the top 5, of the most significant diseases in the developed world, and is gaining in significance there and elsewhere (see big killers).
For at least 20 years, diabetes rates in North America have been increasing substantially. In 2005 there were about 20.8 million people with diabetes in the United States alone. According to the American Diabetes Association, there are about 6.2 million people undiagnosed and about 41 million people that would be considered prediabetic. However, the criteria for diagnosing diabetes in the USA mean that it is more readily diagnosed than in some other countries. The Centers for Disease Control has termed the change an epidemic. The National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse estimates that diabetes costs $132 billion in the United States alone every year. About 5%–10% of diabetes cases in North America are type 1, with the rest being type 2. The fraction of type 1 in other parts of the world differs; this is likely due to both differences in the rate of type 1 and differences in the rate of other types, most prominently type 2. Most of this difference is not currently understood. The American Diabetes Association point out the 2003 assessment of the National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) that 1 in 3 Americans born after 2000 will develop diabetes in their lifetime.
According to the American Diabetes Association, approximately 18.3% (8.6 million) of Americans age 60 and older have diabetes. Diabetes mellitus prevalence increases with age, and the numbers of older persons with diabetes are expected to grow as the elderly population increases in number. The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES III) demonstrated that, in the population over 65 years old, 18% to 20% have diabetes, with 40% having either diabetes or its precursor form of impaired glucose tolerance.
Indigenous populations in first world countries have a higher prevalence and increasing incidence of diabetes than their corresponding non-indigenous populations. In Australia the age-standardised prevalence of self-reported diabetes in Indigenous Australians is almost 4 times that of non-indigenous Australians. Preventative community health programs such as Sugar Man (diabetes education) are showing some success in tackling this problem.


The term diabetes (, diabētēs) was coined by Aretaeus of Cappadocia. It was derived from the Greek verb διαβαίνειν, diabaínein, itself formed from the prefix dia-, "across, apart," and the verb bainein, "to walk, stand." The verb diabeinein meant "to stride, walk, or stand with legs asunder"; hence, its derivative diabētēs meant "one that straddles," or specifically "a compass, siphon." The sense "siphon" gave rise to the use of diabētēs as the name for a disease involving the discharge of excessive amounts of urine. Diabetes is first recorded in English, in the form diabete, in a medical text written around 1425. In 1675, Thomas Willis added the word mellitus, from the Latin meaning "honey", a reference to the sweet taste of the urine. This sweet taste had been noticed in urine by the ancient Greeks, Chinese, Egyptians, and Indians. In 1776, Matthew Dobson confirmed that the sweet taste was because of an excess of a kind of sugar in the urine and blood of people with diabetes.
The ancient Indians tested for diabetes by observing whether ants were attracted to a person's urine, and called the ailment "sweet urine disease" (Madhumeha). The Korean, Chinese, and Japanese words for diabetes are based on the same ideographs (糖尿病) which mean "sugar urine disease".
Although diabetes has been recognized since antiquity, and treatments of various efficacy have been known in various regions since the Middle Ages, and in legend for much longer, pathogenesis of diabetes has only been understood experimentally since about 1900. The discovery of a role for the pancreas in diabetes is generally ascribed to Joseph von Mering and Oskar Minkowski, who in 1889 found that dogs whose pancreas was removed developed all the signs and symptoms of diabetes and died shortly afterwards. In 1910, Sir Edward Albert Sharpey-Schafer suggested that people with diabetes were deficient in a single chemical that was normally produced by the pancreas—he proposed calling this substance insulin, from the Latin insula, meaning island, in reference to the insulin-producing islets of Langerhans in the pancreas. Banting, Best, and colleagues (especially the chemist Collip) went on to purify the hormone insulin from bovine pancreases at the University of Toronto. This led to the availability of an effective treatment—insulin injections—and the first patient was treated in 1922. For this, Banting and laboratory director MacLeod received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1923; both shared their Prize money with others in the team who were not recognized, in particular Best and Collip. Banting and Best made the patent available without charge and did not attempt to control commercial production. Insulin production and therapy rapidly spread around the world, largely as a result of this decision.
The distinction between what is now known as type 1 diabetes and type 2 diabetes was first clearly made by Sir Harold Percival (Harry) Himsworth, and published in January 1936.
Despite the availability of treatment, diabetes has remained a major cause of death. For instance, statistics reveal that the cause-specific mortality rate during 1927 amounted to about 47.7 per 100,000 population in Malta.
Other landmark discoveries include:
  • the three-dimensional structure of insulin ()
  • Dr Gerald Reaven's identification of the constellation of symptoms now called metabolic syndrome in 1988
  • demonstration that intensive glycemic control in type 1 diabetes reduces chronic side effects more as glucose levels approach 'normal' in a large longitudinal study, and also in type 2 diabetics in other large studies
  • identification of the first thiazolidinedione as an effective insulin sensitizer during the 1990s
In 1980, U.S. biotech company Genentech developed human insulin. The insulin is isolated from genetically-altered bacteria (the bacteria contain the human gene for synthesizing human insulin), which produce large quantities of insulin. Scientists then purify the insulin and distribute it to pharmacies for use by diabetes patients.

Social issues

The 1989 Declaration of St Vincent was the result of international efforts to improve the care accorded to those with diabetes. Doing so is important both in terms of quality of life and life expectancy but also economically - expenses to diabetes have been shown to be a major drain on health- and productivity-related resources for healthcare systems and governments.
Several countries established more and less successful national diabetes programmes to improve treatment of the disease.
A study shows that diabetic patients with neuropathic symptoms such as numbness or tingling in feet or hands are twice more likely to be unemployed than those without the symptoms.


External links

diabetes in Afrikaans: Diabetes mellitus
diabetes in Arabic: مرض السكري
diabetes in Asturian: Diabetes
diabetes in Bulgarian: Диабет
diabetes in Bosnian: Diabetes mellitus
diabetes in Catalan: Diabetis mellitus
diabetes in Czech: Diabetes mellitus
diabetes in Welsh: Clefyd y siwgr
diabetes in Danish: Sukkersyge
diabetes in German: Diabetes mellitus
diabetes in Modern Greek (1453-): Διαβήτης
diabetes in Esperanto: Diabeto
diabetes in Spanish: Diabetes mellitus
diabetes in Estonian: Suhkurtõbi
diabetes in Basque: Diabete
diabetes in Persian: مرض قند
diabetes in Finnish: Diabetes
diabetes in French: Diabète sucré
diabetes in Galician: Diabetes mellitus
diabetes in Hebrew: סוכרת
diabetes in Hindi: मधुमेह
diabetes in Croatian: Diabetes mellitus
diabetes in Hungarian: Cukorbetegség
diabetes in Interlingua (International Auxiliary Language Association): Diabete
diabetes in Indonesian: Diabetes mellitus
diabetes in Icelandic: Sykursýki
diabetes in Italian: Diabete mellito
diabetes in Japanese: 糖尿病
diabetes in Georgian: დიაბეტი
diabetes in Korean: 당뇨병
diabetes in Luxembourgish: Diabetes mellitus
diabetes in Lithuanian: Cukrinis diabetas
diabetes in Malayalam: പ്രമേഹം
diabetes in Malay (macrolanguage): Penyakit kencing manis
diabetes in Nepali: मधुमेह
diabetes in Newari: मधुमेह
diabetes in Dutch: Diabetes mellitus
diabetes in Norwegian Nynorsk: Diabetes mellitus
diabetes in Norwegian: Diabetes mellitus
diabetes in Oromo: Diabetes
diabetes in Pampanga: Diabetes mellitus
diabetes in Polish: Cukrzyca
diabetes in Portuguese: Diabetes mellitus
diabetes in Quechua: Misk'i unquy
diabetes in Romanian: Diabet zaharat
diabetes in Russian: Сахарный диабет
diabetes in Serbo-Croatian: Dijabetes
diabetes in Simple English: Diabetes mellitus
diabetes in Slovak: Cukrovka
diabetes in Slovenian: Sladkorna bolezen
diabetes in Albanian: Diabetes mellitus
diabetes in Serbian: Шећерна болест
diabetes in Swedish: Diabetes
diabetes in Tamil: நீரிழிவு நோய்
diabetes in Telugu: మధుమేహం
diabetes in Thai: เบาหวาน
diabetes in Turkish: Diyabet
diabetes in Ukrainian: Цукровий діабет
diabetes in Vietnamese: Đái tháo đường
diabetes in Yiddish: דיעביטיס
diabetes in Chinese: 糖尿病
diabetes in Min Nan: Thn̂g-jiō-pēⁿ
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