DIABETES: CAUSES, SYMPTOMS AND
B. SURESH LAL
Diabetes, often referred to by doctors as diabetes mellitus,
describes a group of metabolic diseases in which the person
has high blood glucose (blood sugar), either because insulin
production is inadequate, or because the body’s cells do not
respond properly to insulin, or both. Patients with high
blood sugar will typically experience polyuria (frequent
urination), they will become increasingly thirsty (polydipsia)
and hungry (polyphagia).
The meaning and origin of diabetes mellitus: Diabetes
comes from Greek, and it means a “siphon”. Aretus the
Cappadocian, a Greek physician during the second century
A.D., named the conditiondiabainein. He described patients
who were passing too much water (polyuria) - like a siphon.
The word became “diabetes” from the English adoption of
the Medieval Latin diabetes. In 1675, Thomas Willis added
mellitus to the term, although it is commonly referred to
simply as diabetes.Melin Latin means “honey”; the urine
and blood of people with diabetes has excess glucose, and
glucose is sweet like honey. Diabetes mellitus could literally
mean “siphoning off sweet water”. In ancient China people
observed that ants would be attracted to some people’s
urine, because it was sweet. The term “Sweet Urine Disease”
Some Key Aspects of Diabetes
• Diabetes is a long-term condition that causes high
blood sugar levels.
• In 2013 it was estimated that over 382 million people
throughout the world had diabetes.
• Type 1 Diabetes - the body does not produce
insulin. Approximately 10% of all diabetes cases are
• Type 2 Diabetes - the body does not produce
enough insulin for proper function. Approximately
90% of all cases of diabetes worldwide are of this
• Gestational Diabetes - this type affects females
• The most common diabetes symptoms include
frequent urination, intense thirst and hunger,
weight gain, unusual weight loss, fatigue, cuts and
bruises that do not heal, male sexual dysfunction,
numbness and tingling in hands and feet.
• If you have Type 1 and follow a healthy eating plan,
do adequate exercise, and take insulin, you can lead
a normal life.
• Type 2 patients need to eat healthily, be physically
active, and test their blood glucose. They may also
need to take oral medication, and/or insulin to
control blood glucose levels.
Types of Diabetes
1) Type 1 diabetes: The body does not produce insulin.
Some people may refer to this type asinsulin-dependent
diabetes,juvenile diabetes, orearly-onset diabetes.
People usually develop type 1 diabetes before their 40th
year, often in early adulthood or teenage years. Type 1
diabetes is nowhere near as common as type 2 diabetes.
Approximately 10% of all diabetes cases are type 1.
Patients with type 1 diabetes will need to take insulin
injections for the rest of their life. They must also ensure
proper blood-glucose levels by carrying out regular
blood tests and following a special diet.
2) Type 2 diabetes: The body does not produce enough
insulin for proper function, or the cells in the body do
not react to insulin (insulin resistance). Approximately
90% of all cases of diabetes worldwide are type 2. Some
people may be able to control their type 2 diabetes
symptoms by losing weight, following a healthy diet,
doing plenty of exercise, and monitoring their blood
glucose levels. However, type 2 diabetes is typically a
progressive disease - it gradually gets worse - and the
patient will probably end up have to take insulin, usually
in tablet form. Overweight and obese people have a
much higher risk of dev eloping ty pe 2 diabete s
compared to those with a healthy body weight. People
with a lot of visceral fat, also known as central obesity,
belly fat, or abdominal obesity, are especially at risk.
Being overweight/obese causes the body to release
chemicals that can destabilize the body’s cardiovascular
and metabolic systems.
Being overweight, physically inactive and eating the
wrong foods all contribute to our risk of developing type
2 diabetes. The scientists believe that the impact of
sugary soft drinks on diabetes risk may be a direct one,
rather than simply an influence on body weight. The
risk of developing type 2 diabetes is also greater as we
get older. Experts are not completely sure why, but say
that as we age we tend to put on weight and become
less physically active. Those with a close relative who
had/ had type 2 diabetes, people of Middle Eastern,
African, or South Asian descent also have a higher risk
of developing the disease. Men whose testosterone levels
are low have been found to have a higher risk of
developing type 2 diabetes.
3) Gestational diabetes: This type affects females during
pregnancy. Some women have very high levels of
glucose in their blood, and their bodies are unable to
produce enough insulin to transport all of the glucose
into their cells, resulting in progressively rising levels
of glucose. Diagnosis of gestational diabetes is made
during pregnancy. The majority of gestational diabetes
patients can control their diabetes with exercise and diet.
Between 10 to 20 percent of them will need to take some
kind of blood-gluco se-controlling medications.
Undiagnosed or uncontrolled gestational diabetes can
raise the risk of complications during childbirth.
What is prediabetes: The vast majority of patients with
type 2 diabetes initially hadprediabetes. Their blood
glucose levels where higher than normal, but not high
enough to merit a diabetes diagnosis. The cells in the body
are becoming resistant to insulin.
Diabetes is a Metabolism Disorder
Diabetes (diabetes mellitus) is classed as a metabolism
disorder. Metabolism refers to the way our bodies use
digested food for energy and growth. Most of what we eat
is broken down into glucose. Glucose is a form of sugar in
the blood - it is the principal source of fuel for our bodies.
When our food is digested, the glucose makes its way
into our bloodstream. Our cells use the glucose for energy
and growth. However, glucose cannot enter our cells
without insulin being present - insulin makes it possible for
our cells to take in the glucose. Insulin is a hormone that is
produced by the pancreas. After eating, the pancreas
automatically releases an adequate quantity of insulin to
move the glucose present in our blood into the cells, as soon
as glucose enters the cells blood-glucose levels drop.
A person with diabetes has a condition in which the
qua n tity of glucose in the blood is too elevated
(hyperglycemia). This is because the body does not produce
enough insulin, produces no insulin, or has cells that do not
respond properly to the insulin the pancreas produces. This
results in too much glucose building up in the blood. This
excess blood glucose eventually passes out of the body in
urine. So, even though the blood has plenty of glucose, the
cells are not getting it for their essential energy and growth
How to determine whether you have diabetes, prediabetes
Doctors can determine whether a patient has a normal
metabolism, prediabetes or diabetes in one of three different
�The A1C test
– at least 6.5% means diabetes
– between 5.7% and 5.99% means prediabetes
– less than 5.7% means normal
�The FPG (fasting plasma glucose) test
– at least 126 mg/dl means diabetes
– between 100 mg/dl and 125.99 mg/dl means
– less than 100 mg/dl means normal
An abnormal reading following the FPG means the
patient has impaired fasting glucose (IFG)
�The OGTT (oral glucose tolerance test)
– at least 200 mg/dl means diabetes
– between 140 and 199.9 mg/dl means prediabetes
– less than 140 mg/dl means normal
An abnormal reading following the OGTT means the
patient has impaired glucose tolerance (IGT)
All types of diabetes are treatable. Diabetes type 1 lasts
a lifetime, there is no known cure. Type 2 usually lasts a
lifetime, however, some people have managed to get rid of
their symptoms without medication, through a combination
of yoga, exercise, diet and body weight control.
Patients with type 1 are treated with regular insulin
injections, as well as a special diet, yoga and exercise. Patients
with Type 2 diabetes are usually treated with tablets, exercise
and a special diet, but sometimes insulin injections are also
required. If diabetes is not adequately controlled the patient
has a significantly higher risk of developing complications.
Complications linked to badly controlled diabetes:
Below is a list of possible complications that can be
caused by badly controlled diabetes:
�Eye complications- glaucoma, cataracts, diabetic
retinopathy, and some others.
�Foot complications- neuropathy, ulcers, and
sometimes gangrene which may require that the
foot be amputated
�Skin complications- people with diabetes are more
susceptible to skin infections and skin disorders
�Heart problems- such as ischemic heart disease,
when the blood supply to the heart muscle is
�Hypertension- common in people with diabetes,
which can raise the risk of kidney disease, eye
problems, heart attack and stroke
�Mental health- uncontrolled diabetes raises the
risk of suffering from depression, anxiety and some
other mental disorders
�Hearing loss- diabetes patients have a higher risk
of developing hearing problems
�Gum disease- there is a much higher prevalence
of gum disease among diabetes patients
�Gastroparesis- the muscles of the stomach stop
�Ketoacidosis- a combination of ketosis and
acidosis; accumulation of ketone bodies and acidity
in the blood.
�Neuropathy- diabetic neuropathy is a type of nerve
da mage which can lead to several different
�HHNS (Hyperosmolar Hyperglycemic Nonketotic
Syndrome)- blood glucose levels shoot up too high,
and there are no ketones present in the blood or
urine. It is an emergency condition.
�Nephropathy- uncontrolled blood pressure can
lead to kidney disease
�PAD (peripheral arterial disease)- symptoms may
include pain in the leg, tingling and sometimes
problems walking properly
�Stroke- if blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and
blood glucose levels are not controlled, the risk of
stroke increases significantly
�Erectile dysfunction- male impotence.
�Infections- people with badly controlled diabetes
are much more susceptible to infections
�Healing of wounds- cuts and lesions take much
longer to heal.
Some facts and myths about diabetes: Many presumed
“facts” are thrown about in the paper press, magazines and
on the internet regarding diabetes; some of them are, in fact,
myths. It is important that people with diabetes, pre-
diabetes, their loved ones, employers and schools have an
accurate picture of the disease. Below are some diabetes
�People with diabetes should not exercise- NOT
TRUE!! Exercise is important for people with
diabetes, as it is for everybody else. Exercise helps
manage body weight, improves cardiovascular
health, improves mood, helps blood sugar control,
and relieves stress. Patients should discuss exercise
with their doctor first.
�Fat people always develop type 2 diabetes
eventually- this is not true. Being overweight or
obese raises the risk of becoming diabetic, they are
risk factors, but do not mean that an obese person
will definitely become diabetic. Many people with
type 2 diabetes were ne ver overweight. The
majority of overweight people do not develop type
�Diabetes is a nuisance, but not serious- two thirds
of diabetes patients die prematurely from stroke or
heart disease. The life expectancy of a person with
diabetes is from five to ten years shorter than other
people’s. Diabetes is a serious disease.
�Children can outgrow diabetes- this is not true.
Nearly all children with diabetes have type 1;
insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas have
been destroyed. These never come back. Children
with type 1 diabetes will need to take insulin for
the rest of their lives, unless a cure is found one
�Don’t eat too much sugar, you will become
diabetic- this is not true. A person with diabetes
type 1 developed the disease because their immune
system destroyed the insulin-producing beta cells.
A diet high in calories, which can make people
overweight/obese, raises the risk of developing
type 2 diabetes, especially if there is a history of
this disease in the family.
�I know when my blood sugar levels are high or
low- very high or low blood sugar levels may cause
some symptoms, such as weakness, fatigue and
ex tr eme thirst. Howe ver, levels need to be
fluctuating a lot for symptoms to be felt. The only
way to be sure about your blood sugar levels is to
test them regularly. Researchers from the
University of Copenhagen, Denmark showed that
even very slight rises in blood-glucose levels
significantly raise the risk of ischemic heart disease.
�Diabetes diets are different from other people’s-
the diet doctors and specialized nutritionists
recommend for diabetes patients are healthy ones;
healthy for everybody, including people without
the disease. Meals should contain plen ty of
vegetables, fruit, whole grains, and they should be
low in salt and sugar, and saturated or trans fat.
Experts say that there is no need to buy special
diabetic foods because they offer no special benefit,
compared to the healthy things we can buy in most
�High blood sugar levels are fine for some, while
for others they are a sign of diabetes- high blood-
sugar levels are never normal for anybody. Some
illnesses, mental stress and steroids can cause
temporary hikes in blood sugar levels in people
without diabetes. Anybody with higher-than-
normal blood sugar levels or sugar in their urine
should be checked for diabetes by a health care
�Diabetics cannot eat bread, potatoes or pasta-
people with diabetes can eat starchy foods .
However, they must keep an eye on the size of the
portions. Whole grain starchy foods are better, as
is the case for people without diabetes.
�One person can transmit diabetes to another
person- NOT TRUE. Just like a broken leg is not
infectious or contagious. A parent may pass on,
through their genes to their offspring, a higher
susceptibility to developing the disease.
�Only older people develop type 2 diabetes- things
are changing. A growing number of children and
teenagers are developing type 2 diabetes. Experts
say that this is linked to the explosion in childhood
obesity rates, poor diet, and physical inactivity.
�I have to go on insulin, this must mean my
diabetes is severe- people take insulin when diet
alone or diet with oral or non-insulin injectable
diabetes drugs do not provide good-enough
diabetes control, that’s all. Insulin helps diabetes
control. It does not usually have anything to do
with the severity of the disease.
�If you have diabetes you cannot eat chocolates or
sweets- people with diabetes can eat chocolates
and sweets if they combine them with exercise or
eat them as part of a healthy meal.
�Diabetes patients are more susceptible to colds
and illnesses in general- a person with diabetes
with good diabetes control is no more likely to
become ill with a cold or something else than other
people. However, when a diabetic catches a cold,
their diabetes becomes harder to control, so they
have a higher risk of complications.
Symptoms of Diabetes: People can often have diabetes
and be completely unaware. The main reason for this is that
the symptoms, when seen on their own, seem harmless.
However, the earlier diabetes is diagnosed the greater the
chances are that serious complications, which can result
from having diabetes, can be avoided.
Here is a list of the most common diabetes symptoms:
�Frequent urination: Have you been going to the
bathroom to urinate more often recently? Do you
notice that you spend most of the day going to the
toilet? When there is too much glucose (sugar) in
your blood you will urinate more often. If your
insulin is ineffective, or not there at all, your
kidneys cannot filter the glucose back into the
blood. The kidneys will take water from your blood
in order to dilute the glucose - which in turn fills
up your bladder.
�Disproportionate thirst: If you are urinating more
than usual, you will need to replace that lost liquid.
You will be drinking more than usual. Have you
been drinking more than usual lately?
�Intense hunger: As the insulin in your blood is not
working properly, or is not there at all, and your
cells are not getting their energy, your body may
react by trying to find more energy - food. You will
�Weight gain: This might be the result of the above
symptom (intense hunger).
�Unusual weight loss: This is more common among
people with Diabetes Type 1. As your body is not
making insulin it will seek out another energy
source (the cells aren’t getting glucose). Muscle
tissue and fat will be broken down for energy. As
Type 1 is of a more sudden onset and Type 2 is
much more gradual, weight loss is more noticeable
with Type 1.
�Increased fatigue: If your insulin is not working
properly, or is not there at all, glucose will not be
entering your cells and providing them with
energy. This will make you feel tired and listless.
�Irritability: Irritability can be due to your lack of
�Blurred vision: This can be caused by tissue being
pulled from your eye lenses. This affects your eyes’
ability to focus. With proper treatment this can be
treated. There are severe cases where blindness or
prolonged vision problems can occur.
�Cuts and bruises don’t heal properly or quickly:
Do you find cuts and bruises take a much longer
time than usual to heal? When there is more sugar
(glucose) in your body, its ability to heal can be
�More skin and/or yeast infections: When there is
more sugar in your body, its ability to recover from
infections is affected. Women with diabetes find it
especially difficult to recover from bladder and
�Itchy skin: A feeling of itchiness on your skin is
sometimes a symptom of diabetes.
�Gums are red and/or swollen - Gums pull away
from teeth: If your gums are tender, red and/or
swollen this could be a sign of diabetes. Your teeth
could become loose as the gums pull away from
�Frequent gum disease/infection: As well as the
previous gum symptoms, you may experience more
frequent gum disease and/or gum infections.
�Sexual dysfunction among men: If you are over
50 and experience frequent or constant sexual
dysfunction (erectile dysfunction), it could be a
symptom of diabetes.
�Numbness or tingling, especially in your feet and
hands: If there is too much sugar in your body your
nerves could become damaged, as could the tiny
blood vessels that feed those nerves. You may
experience tingling and/or numbness in your
hands and feet.
Diagnosis of Diabetes: Diabetes can often be detected
by carrying out a urine test, which finds out whether excess
glucose is present. This is normally backed up by a blood
test, which measures blood glucose levels and can confirm
if the cause of your symptoms is diabetes. If you are worried
that you may have some of the above symptoms, you are
recommended to talk to your Doctor or a qualified health