What is diabetes? That is truly a loaded question. I imagine each person who has diabetes could answer that question in a different way. I am going to answer it historically and scientifically…this time.
Diabetes mellitus is characterized by high blood glucose. Diabetes is a Greek word for “to pass through” and mellitus is Latin for “sweet like honey.” When Greek people first identified diabetes (1500 BC), they saw that people were passing unusual amounts of urine. Others noted that the urine attracted insects because it was sweet. Today, we typically refer to diabetes mellitus as just “diabetes,” and health care professionals sometimes call it “DM.”
There is also a rare disease called diabetes insipidus, characterized by extreme thirst and large amounts of urine. Diabetes insipidus can be caused by the body not producing antidiuretic hormone (ADH or vasopressin) or by the kidneys not responding to ADH properly. Diabetes insipidus is unrelated to diabetes mellitus; they share the name diabetes because they are both characterized by excessive passing of urine.
In this blog, unless otherwise stated, I am only referring to diabetes mellitus.
There are a few different types of diabetes mellitus: type 1, type 2, and gestational diabetes mellitus (GDM) are the most often talked-about. We also hear the terms LADA, type 1.5, secondary diabetes and maturity onset diabetes in youth (MODY or monogenic diabetes). I will wade through these names and what they mean in future posts.
For now the important thing to know is that in people with diabetes, the body does not do what it is supposed to do to metabolize carbohydrates, and the amount of glucose in the blood is therefore elevated. Because the body is always working to establish balance, it tries to flush out the excess glucose through the urine.