What Is Diabetes?

When someone mentions diabetes the usual reaction is one of sadness, worry and even a bit of horror. Most people see this disease as very serious, with cancer and heart attack being a bit more of a threat to life. But in the last couple of decades, medical research and lifestyle changes have given people new tools to live with diabetes.

When an individual has diabetes, the body doesn’t make enough of a hormone called insulin, or if the boy does manufacture the insulin the hormone isn’t used in the way nature intended. Insulin has a very important job in the body – transforming sugar and starches in food into usable energy. While no one has been able completely explain the root cause of diabetes, most people have an idea of the inherited traits and habits that may have some input into the disease.

It’s interesting to note that many people have diabetes (millions, in fact) and don’t realize that they are at risk. Medical personnel have developed a test that can diagnose diabetes or the status known as “pre-diabetes.” The tests are known as fasting plasma test and oral glucose-tolerance test. When the first test (FPG) is administered the glucose level should be in a normal 100 to 125 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dl) range. For most doctors and researchers a level of 126 and above indicates diabetes.

The second test, also known as OGTT, involves a fast before the test as well as taking in a drink that is high in glucose. When the measurement is made two hours after drinking the glucose level should be in the 140 to 199 mg/dl range.

While this might seem to define the disease in a very simple, straightforward way, there is more to the story. Research has uncovered several types of diabetes. Type 1 involves the body not making insulin. In basic terms, this hormone opens cell walls so that glucose can enter. This is the fuel the body needs to survive.

Type 2 diabetes comes from the body not using the insulin that is produced. Medical studies show that the majority of people diagnosed with diabetes have this type. Women who have just completed pregnancy that involved “gestational” diabetes move on to have Type 2.

The disease is actually known by the name diabetes mellitus in the medical community. It is a disorder of body metabolism – how the body uses the food we eat to move and grow. The internal organ called the pancreas is responsible for making the insulin a body needs. Too much glucose in the blood is also known as hyperglycemia.

The name “diabetes mellitus” comes from the Greek language. The name refers to patients who were thought to be passing excess water. The word “mellitus” was added to give the indication of sweetness (mel means honey in Latin). That’s why the term can be loosely translated as a disease of sweet urine.

Written by Lucas Beaumont

Generalist. Wikipedia contributor. Elementary school teacher from Saskatchewan, Canada.

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