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What is Diabetes?

Part 1: background to diabetes

The word 'diabetes' comes from a Greek word meaning a 'flowing through'. It refers to the increased amount of urine excreted in the disease, a phenomenon called polyuria . The commonest form is called diabetes mellitus, or 'sweet flowing through', because glucose appears in urine.

Diabetes mellitus is a chronic disorder of carbohydrate metabolism. It is not contagious: you can't catch it from someone who has it. Diabetes impairs the body's ability to use food properly such that blood sugars are not oxidised to produce energy. This is due to a malfunction of the hormone insulin which is produced in the beta cells of the pancreas. People with diabetes fall into two broad groups:

  • In type-1 diabetes , the pancreas produces little or no insulin.

  • In type-2 diabetes , the pancreas does produce insulin but that insulin is ineffective.

Although the causes are different, the outcome of both types of diabetes is chronic high levels of glucose in the blood. It is this high level that is used to diagnose diabetes.

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Last updated 23 January 2009

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