Diabetes Mellitus Highlights

Last Editorial Review: 3/29/2002

What is diabetes mellitus?

Diabetes mellitus, commonly referred to as "diabetes," means "sweet urine." It is a chronic medical condition associated with abnormally high levels of sugar (glucose) in the blood. Elevated levels of blood glucose (hyperglycemia) lead to spillage of glucose into the urine, hence the term sweet urine. Normally, blood glucose levels are tightly controlled by insulin, a hormone produced by the pancreas. Insulin lowers the blood glucose level. When the blood glucose elevates (for example, after eating food), insulin is released from the pancreas to normalize the glucose level. In patients with diabetes mellitus, the absence or insufficient production of insulin causes hyperglycemia. Diabetes mellitus is a chronic medical condition, meaning it can last a life time. Over time, diabetes mellitus can lead to blindness, kidney failure, and nerve damage. Diabetes mellitus is also an important factor in accelerating the hardening and narrowing of the arteries (atherosclerosis), leading to strokes, coronary heart diseases, and other blood vessel diseases in the body. Diabetes mellitus affects 12-15 million people (6% of the population) in the United States. The direct and indirect cost of diabetes mellitus is $40 billion per year. It is the third leading cause of death in the United States after heart disease and cancer.

Points to remember

  • Diabetes mellitus is a chronic condition associated with abnormally high levels of sugar (glucose) in the blood.
  • Insulin produced by the pancreas lowers blood glucose.
  • Absence or insufficient production of insulin causes diabetes.
  • The two types of diabetes are referred to as insulin dependent (type I) and non-insulin dependent (type II).
  • Symptoms of diabetes mellitus include increased urine output and appetite as well as fatigue.
  • Diabetes mellitus is diagnosed by blood sugar (glucose) testing.
  • The major complications of diabetes mellitus include dangerously elevated blood sugar, abnormally low blood sugar due to diabetes medications, and disease of the blood vessels which can damage the eye, kidneys, nerves, and heart.
  • Diabetes treatment depends on the type and severity of the diabetes.
For more information, please visit the Diabetes Mellitus Center.

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