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What Is Diabetes Mellitus?

Discover the intricacies of diabetes mellitus, its various types, underlying causes, common symptoms, and effective management strategies. Gain insights into this widespread condition and how to maintain better health.

  • 03 Nov 2023
  • 3 min read

Diabetes is a metabolic disorder affecting insulin production or the body’s response to insulin, resulting in disruption of blood sugar control. Complications of diabetes include heart disease, eye problems, kidney disease, and nerve disorders, leading to morbidity and mortality over time.

Diabetes mellitus can be of two forms: type 1, or juvenile-onset, which often begins in childhood; and type 2, or adult-onset, which commonly appears after 40 and is linked with insulin resistance. Another condition that affects pregnant women is gestational diabetes, a disorder that causes elevated levels of blood sugar during pregnancy. Read on to learn more about what is diabetes mellitus.


Diabetes mellitus explained

Diabetes is a Greek term that means ‘siphon’ or ‘passage.’ But what is mellitus? Mellitus is a Latin word that means ‘sweet.’ This is because it was noticed that the urine of people suffering from diabetes smelled sweet.

  • Causes: Insulin, a hormone produced by pancreatic beta cells, regulates glucose uptake for cellular energy. In diabetes, either the production of insulin decreases due to dysfunctional beta cells or cells become insulin-resistant, leading to high blood sugar.
  • Symptoms: High blood sugar (hyperglycaemia) causes symptoms when levels are around 180 mg/dL or higher. Excess glucose from the blood is removed by the kidneys, resulting in glucose in the urine. This affects water reabsorption, causing frequent urination (polyuria) and thirst (polydipsia). This loss of glucose in the urine causes fatigue, exhaustion, weight loss, and an increase in hunger. Infections, especially in the urinary and vaginal areas, can also occur.
  • Complications: Diabetic ketoacidosis is a critical complication of diabetes. In type 1 diabetes, an insulin shortage causes severe hyperglycaemia and increased fat breakdown, releasing fatty acids and ketones. This elevates blood acidity (lowering pH) and creates diabetic ketoacidosis, leading to hyperventilation, impaired brain function, coma, and even death. Urgent treatment with insulin and IV fluids is essential.

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  • Diagnosis: Blood glucose of 126 mg/dL or greater after overnight fasting or random blood glucose of 200 mg/dL are used to make a diagnosis of diabetes. Fasting glucose between 100 and 125 mg/dL indicates prediabetes, while normal fasting levels are under 100 mg/dL. Another parameter important for the diagnosis of hyperglycaemia is glycosylated haemoglobin subtype HbA1c.
  • Treatment: Treatment for diabetes aims to normalise blood glucose levels. This is crucial for overall well-being and preventing long-term complications. Treatment options for diabetes include:
  • Diet and exercise: Diabetes patients can control blood sugar levels by maintaining a normal body weight through a tailored diet and exercise. Weight loss in diabetic patients through physical activity can enhance insulin sensitivity.
  • Drugs: Drugs used for the treatment of diabetes include sulfonylureas, thiazolidinediones, and biguanides.
  • Insulin: Insulin therapy is advised for people whose pancreatic cells cannot secrete insulin.
  • Prevention: It is difficult to control type 1 diabetes, but type 2 diabetes is preventable by incorporating some lifestyle changes like maintaining a normal weight, doing physical activities or exercising regularly, eating a healthy diet with low fat and more protein, and quitting smoking.
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