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What is Diabetes?

Updated on September 3, 2014

What Does Diabetes Mean?

Diabetes Mellitus is the scientific name for the metabolic disease more commonly known as Diabetes. The word diabetes is derived from the Greek term "diabanein" which means "to pass through" referring to the excess urination that occurs as a common symptom of diabetes. The word mellitus is of Latin origin meaning "sweetened with honey" and correlates to the presence of excessive sugar in the body.

Diabetes Simplified

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What is Diabetes?

What is diabetes? Well it's a metabolic disease that affects a persons blood glucose (blood sugar) levels. This is a result of either the body not being able to produce insulin which in turn increases the glucose level in the body, the body being unable to properly respond to insulin, or both.

In order to understand how diabetes affects the body, an understanding of how the body processes food is necessary. After every meal, a portion of food that is eating is broken down into sugar (glucose) which then passes into the bloodstream and eventually in the cells of the body through the hormone insulin which is produce by the pancreas.

In a normal functioning pancreas the correct amount of insulin is produced to accommodate the amount of sugar in the bloodstream however for a person with diabetes, the pancreas produces littler or no insulin, or the cells are unable to properly respond to the insulin. This results in a build up of sugar in the blood stream which then passes out of the body unused via excess urination. High blood sugar levels can cause damage to the body over time, damaging eyes, blood vessels, nerves and kidneys.

Symptoms of Diabetes

Main Symptoms of Diabetes
Main Symptoms of Diabetes | Source

Diabetes Symptoms

There are a few common symptoms of diabetes that should be a warning sign to anyone that has not been diagnosed. Besides having an increase in blood sugar level, there are many other physical symptoms that are common of diabetes:

  • Polyuria (frequent urination)
  • Polydipsia (increase in thirst)
  • Polyphagia (increase in hunger)
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Blurry vision
  • Cuts and/or bruises that are slow to heal
  • Weight loss
  • Pain or numbness in the hands and/or feet

Types of Diabetes

There are two main types of diabetes; Type I and Type II.

Type I diabetes also known as insulin-dependent diabetes and only 5% of people with diabetes have this form of the disease. Previously referred to as juvenile diabetes, or early-onset diabetes as it usually diagnosed in children and young adults. In this type of diabetes, the pancreas makes little to no insulin at all.

Type II diabetes is referred to as non-insulin-dependent diabetes and comprises of about 95% percent of all cases of diabetes. With an increase in the levels of obesity and sedentary lifestyle, the disease is being found in adults and adolescents. In this type of diabetes, the pancreas produces a reduced amount of insulin, the cells no longer respond to insulin, or both.

Another type of diabetes is Gestational Diabetes.

Gestational Diabetes affects women during their pregnancy around the 24th week. Gestational diabetes causes an increase in blood glucose levels and the bodies are unable to produce enough insulin to transport glucose to the cells causing progressively rising levels of glucose.

Gestational diabetes patients can control their diabetes with exercise and diet while 10-20% of them need to take medication for managing blood glucose levels. Un-diagnosed and uncontrolled cases can increase the risk of complications during childbirth.

What Causes Diabetes?

There are three different types of diabetes and each has a different cause.

In Type I Diabetes, the body produces an insufficient amount of insulin in relation to glucose levels in the blood. This type of diabetes is an autoimmune disease where the immune system creates antibodies to attack the insulin producing cells found in the pancreas. It is believed that this tendency of the body producing abnormal antibodies is genetically inherited; unfortunately the details are not fully understood.

In Type II Diabetes, there are strong genetic relationships to developing this type of diabetes but other, major risk factors include obesity. In fact there is a direct relationship between obesity and the likelihood of developing Type II Diabetes. Being overweight causes the body to release chemicals that can destabilize the body's cardiovascular and metabolic systems. Being overweight and physically inactive while eating unhealthy foods all contribute to an increase risk of developing Type II diabetes.

Studies regarding Gestational Diabetes have found that women with diets of high animal fat and cholesterol before pregnancy had a higher risk for gestational diabetes compared to women whose diets were low in cholesterol and animal fats before pregnancy.

More information for the causes of diabetes can be found below:

Insulin Pump

Diabetes Treatment

Diabetes is a treatable disease. Type I lasts a lifetime and there is no known cure; Type II may last a lifetime however there are some people that have manage to get rid of their symptoms without medication through exercise, dieting and body weight control. Researchfrom the Arizona Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale has shown in a high number of patients that a gastric bypass surgery can actually reverse diabetes type II diabetes.

Type I diabetes patients are treated regularly with insulin injections. Development in healthcare technology has allowed the use of insulin pumps to deliver insulin to the blood stream continuously throughout the day.

Type II diabetes patients are typically treated with tablets, exercise and special diets, however in some cases insulin injections may also be required.

By properly controlling diabetes, patients has a significantly lower risk of developing complications.

Data from the 2011 National Diabetes Fact Sheet (released Jan. 26, 2011)

Total Prevalence of Diabetes

Total: 25.8 million children and adults in the United States—8.3% of the population—have diabetes.

Diagnosed: 18.8 million people

Undiagnosed: 7.0 million people

Prediabetes: 79 million people*

New Cases: 1.9 million new cases of diabetes are diagnosed in people aged 20 years and older in 2010.

Race and ethnic differences

  • 7.1% of non-Hispanic whites
  • 8.4% of Asian Americans
  • 12.6% of non-Hispanic blacks
  • 11.8% of Hispanics

Morbidity and Mortality

  • In 2007, diabetes was listed as the underlying cause on 71,382 death certificates and was listed as a contributing factor on an additional 160,022 death certificates. This means that diabetes contributed to a total of 231,404 deaths.


Heart disease and stroke

  • In 2004, heart disease was noted on 68% of diabetes-related death certificates among people aged 65 years or older.
  • In 2004, stroke was noted on 16% of diabetes-related death certificates among people aged 65 years or older.
  • Adults with diabetes have heart disease death rates about 2 to 4 times higher than adults without diabetes.
  • The risk for stroke is 2 to 4 times higher among people with diabetes.

High blood pressure

  • In 2005-2008, of adults aged 20 years or older with self-reported diabetes, 67% had blood pressure greater than or equal to 140/90 mmHg or used prescription medications for hypertension.


  • Diabetes is the leading cause of new cases of blindness among adults aged 20–74 years.
  • In 2005-2008, 4.2 million (28.5%) people with diabetes aged 40 years or older had diabetic retinopathy, and of these, almost 0.7 million (4.4% of those with diabetes) had advanced diabetic retinopathy that could lead to severe vision loss.

Kidney disease

  • Diabetes is the leading cause of kidney failure, accounting for 44% of new cases in 2008.
  • In 2008, 48,374 people with diabetes began treatment for end-stage kidney disease in the United States.
  • In 2008, a total of 202,290 people with end-stage kidney disease due to diabetes were living on chronic dialysis or with a kidney transplant in the United States.

Nervous system disease (Neuropathy)

  • About 60% to 70% of people with diabetes have mild to severe forms of nervous system damage.


  • More than 60% of nontraumatic lower-limb amputations occur in people with diabetes.
  • In 2006, about 65,700 nontraumatic lower-limb amputations were performed in people with diabetes.

Cost of Diabetes

Updated March 6, 2013

  • $245 billion: Total costs of diagnosed diabetes in the United States in 2012
  • $176 billion for direct medical costs
  • $69 billion in reduced productivity

After adjusting for population age and sex differences, average medical expenditures among people with diagnosed diabetes were 2.3 times higher than what expenditures would be in the absence of diabetes.

All information can be found on the American Diabetes Association.


There are two major types of diabetes. Type I diabetes is associated with the pancreas not being able to produce sufficient amounts of insulin to manage blood glucose levels. Type II diabetes occurs when the body no longer responds to insulin and it is known that type II is the predominant form of diabetes.

In order to manage diabetes, patients must be educated and understand their condition while also actively participating in their own health management. Although there is no known cure that has yet to be discovered for diabetes, being informed and managing personal healthy is a major factor in controlling all types of diabetes.


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      5 years ago

      Great hub page! I was looking to learn more about diabetes since my gf's kid has it and this page was full of great information and insight. Thanks!


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