History of diabetes: Past treatments and new discoveries Diabetes has been known for at least 2,000 years. Over the years, treatments have included exercise, riding on horseback, drinking wine, consuming milk or rice, opium, and overfeeding. It was not until 1921 that insulin was introduced as a treatment. Science has progressed, but diabetes remains a major health problem. Read now
The typical symptoms of diabetes mellitus are the three “polys:” polyuria, polydipsia, and polyphagia. Because of insulin deficiency, the assimilation and storage of glucose in muscle adipose tissues, and the liver is greatly diminished. This produces an accumulation of glucose in the blood and creates an increase in its osmolarity. In response to this increased osmotic pressure there is depletion of intracellular water and osmotic diuresis. The water loss creates intense thirst and increased urination. The increased appetite (polyphagia) is not as clearly understood. It may be the result of the body's effort to increase its supply of energy foods even though eating more carbohydrates in the absence of sufficient insulin does not meet the energy needs of the cells.
Insulin is needed to allow glucose to pass from the blood into most of the body cells. Only the cells of the brain and central nervous system can use glucose from the blood in the absence of insulin. Without insulin, most body cells metabolize substances other than glucose for energy. However, fat metabolism in the absence of glucose metabolism, creates ketone bodies which are poisonous and their build up is associated with hyperglycemic coma. In the absence of sufficient insulin, unmetabolized glucose builds up in the blood. Water is drawn from body cells by osmosis to dilute the highly concentrated blood, and is then excreted along with much of the glucose, once the renal threshold for glucose (usually 10 mmol/L) is exceeded. Dehydration follows.
Assemble a Medical Team: Whether you've had diabetes for a long time or you've just been diagnosed, there are certain doctors that are important to see. It is extremely important to have a good primary care physician. This type of doctor will help coordinate appointments for other physicians if they think that you need it. Some primary physicians treat diabetes themselves, whereas others will recommend that you visit an endocrinologist for diabetes treatment. An endocrinologist is a person who specializes in diseases of the endocrine system, diabetes being one of them.
Type I diabetes, sometimes called juvenile diabetes, begins most commonly in childhood or adolescence. In this form of diabetes, the body produces little or no insulin. It is characterized by a sudden onset and occurs more frequently in populations descended from Northern European countries (Finland, Scotland, Scandinavia) than in those from Southern European countries, the Middle East, or Asia. In the United States, approximately three people in 1,000 develop Type I diabetes. This form also is called insulin-dependent diabetes because people who develop this type need to have daily injections of insulin.
Insulin, a hormone released from the pancreas (an organ behind the stomach that also produces digestive enzymes), controls the amount of glucose in the blood. Glucose in the bloodstream stimulates the pancreas to produce insulin. Insulin helps glucose to move from the blood into the cells. Once inside the cells, glucose is converted to energy, which is used immediately, or the glucose is stored as fat or glycogen until it is needed.
Type 1 diabetes has some connection to your family genes, but that doesn't mean you'll get it if one of your parents had it. "Since not all identical twins get diabetes, we do think that exposure to an additional environmental factor may trigger an immune response that ultimately causes destruction of the insulin-producing cells of the pancreas," says Dr. Sarah R. Rettinger, an endocrinologist with Providence Saint John's Health Center in Santa Monica, California.
The glucose level at which symptoms develop varies greatly from individual to individual (and from time to time in the same individual), depending in part on the duration of diabetes, the frequency of hypoglycemic episodes, the rate of fall of glycemia, and overall control. (Glucose is also the sole energy source for erythrocytes and the kidney medulla.)
The more common form of diabetes, Type II, occurs in approximately 3-5% of Americans under 50 years of age, and increases to 10-15% in those over 50. More than 90% of the diabetics in the United States are Type II diabetics. Sometimes called age-onset or adult-onset diabetes, this form of diabetes occurs most often in people who are overweight and who do not exercise. It is also more common in people of Native American, Hispanic, and African-American descent. People who have migrated to Western cultures from East India, Japan, and Australian Aboriginal cultures also are more likely to develop Type II diabetes than those who remain in their original countries.
Per the WHO, people with fasting glucose levels from 6.1 to 6.9 mmol/l (110 to 125 mg/dl) are considered to have impaired fasting glucose.[67] people with plasma glucose at or above 7.8 mmol/l (140 mg/dl), but not over 11.1 mmol/l (200 mg/dl), two hours after a 75 gram oral glucose load are considered to have impaired glucose tolerance. Of these two prediabetic states, the latter in particular is a major risk factor for progression to full-blown diabetes mellitus, as well as cardiovascular disease.[68] The American Diabetes Association (ADA) since 2003 uses a slightly different range for impaired fasting glucose of 5.6 to 6.9 mmol/l (100 to 125 mg/dl).[69]
Glucose in your body can cause yeast infections. This is because glucose speeds the growth of fungus. There are over-the-counter and prescription medications to treat yeast infections. You can potentially avoid yeast infections by maintaining better control of your blood sugar. Take insulin as prescribed, exercise regularly, reduce your carb intake, choose low-glycemic foods, and monitor your blood sugar.
Excess glucose in the blood can damage small blood vessels in the nerves causing a tingling sensation or pain in the fingers, toes and limbs. Nerves that lie outside of the central nervous system may also be damaged, which is referred to as peripheral neuropathy. If nerves of the gastrointestinal tract are affected, this may cause vomiting, constipation and diarrhea.
Type 1 and type 2 diabetes were identified as separate conditions for the first time by the Indian physicians Sushruta and Charaka in 400–500 AD with type 1 associated with youth and type 2 with being overweight.[110] The term "mellitus" or "from honey" was added by the Briton John Rolle in the late 1700s to separate the condition from diabetes insipidus which is also associated with frequent urination.[110] Effective treatment was not developed until the early part of the 20th century when the Canadians Frederick Banting and Charles Best discovered insulin in 1921 and 1922.[110] This was followed by the development of the long acting NPH insulin in the 1940s.[110]
Diabetes is a serious and costly disease which is becoming increasingly common, especially in developing countries and disadvantaged minorities. However, there are ways of preventing it and/or controlling its progress. Public and professional awareness of the risk factors for, and symptoms of diabetes are an important step towards its prevention and control.
Diabetes insipidus is characterized by excessive urination and thirst, as well as a general feeling of weakness. While these can also be symptoms of diabetes mellitus, if you have diabetes insipidus your blood sugar levels will be normal and no sugar present in your urine. Diabetes insipidus is a problem of fluid balance caused by a problem with the kidneys, where they can't stop the excretion of water. Polyuria (excessive urine) and polydipsia (excessive thirst) occur in diabetes mellitus as a reaction to high blood sugar.

Maturity onset diabetes of the young (MODY) is a rare autosomal dominant inherited form of diabetes, due to one of several single-gene mutations causing defects in insulin production.[52] It is significantly less common than the three main types. The name of this disease refers to early hypotheses as to its nature. Being due to a defective gene, this disease varies in age at presentation and in severity according to the specific gene defect; thus there are at least 13 subtypes of MODY. People with MODY often can control it without using insulin.


Weight loss surgery in those with obesity and type two diabetes is often an effective measure.[14] Many are able to maintain normal blood sugar levels with little or no medications following surgery[95] and long-term mortality is decreased.[96] There is, however, a short-term mortality risk of less than 1% from the surgery.[97] The body mass index cutoffs for when surgery is appropriate are not yet clear.[96] It is recommended that this option be considered in those who are unable to get both their weight and blood sugar under control.[98]
High blood sugar levels (hyperglycemia) can lead to a condition called glucose toxicity. This leads to further damage to the pancreas, and the body is less able to produce insulin. Without insulin, glucose levels continue to rise to levels that can cause damage to organs such as the eyes, nerves, and kidneys. These problems are similar to the complications associated with type 1 diabetes.
When your blood sugar is out of whack, you just don’t feel well, says Cypress, and might become more short-tempered. In fact, high blood sugar can mimic depression-like symptoms. “You feel very tired, you don’t feel like doing anything, you don’t want to go out, you just want to sleep,” Cypress says. She’ll see patients who think they need to be treated for depression, but then experience mood improvement after their blood sugar normalizes.
How does high blood sugar (hyperglycemia) feel? To maintain the right amount of blood sugar, the body needs insulin, a hormone that delivers this sugar to the cells. When insulin is lacking, blood sugar builds up. We describe symptoms of high blood sugar, including fatigue, weight loss, and frequent urination. Learn who is at risk and when to see a doctor here. Read now

In type 2 diabetes, there also is a steady decline of beta cells that adds to the process of elevated blood sugars. Essentially, if someone is resistant to insulin, the body can, to some degree, increase production of insulin and overcome the level of resistance. After time, if production decreases and insulin cannot be released as vigorously, hyperglycemia develops.
Type 2 diabetes is often treated with oral medication because many people with this type of diabetes make some insulin on their own. The pills people take to control type 2 diabetes do not contain insulin. Instead, medications such as metformin, sulfonylureas, alpha-glucosidase inhibitors and many others are used to make the insulin that the body still produces more effective.
Janis McWilliams, RN, MSN, CDE, BC-ADM, responds: Yes, in type 1 diabetes in particular, the onset of symptoms like frequent urination and extreme thirst can be very sudden. In type 2 diabetes, the symptoms tend to come about more gradually, and sometimes there are no signs at all. People who have symptoms should contact their health care provider immediately for an accurate diagnosis. Keep in mind that these symptoms could signal other problems, too.
With gestational diabetes, risks to the unborn baby are even greater than risks to the mother. Risks to the baby include abnormal weight gain before birth, breathing problems at birth, and higher obesity and diabetes risk later in life. Risks to the mother include needing a cesarean section due to an overly large baby, as well as damage to heart, kidney, nerves, and eye.
Diabetes mellitus is linked with an increased risk of heart attacks, strokes, poor blood circulation to the legs and damage to the eyes, feet and kidneys. Early diagnosis and strict control of blood sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol levels can help to prevent or delay these complications associated with diabetes. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle (regular exercise, eating healthily and maintaining a healthy weight) is important in reducing the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

Every cell in the human body needs energy in order to function. The body's primary energy source is glucose, a simple sugar resulting from the digestion of foods containing carbohydrates (sugars and starches). Glucose from the digested food circulates in the blood as a ready energy source for any cells that need it. Insulin is a hormone or chemical produced by cells in the pancreas, an organ located behind the stomach. Insulin bonds to a receptor site on the outside of cell and acts like a key to open a doorway into the cell through which glucose can enter. Some of the glucose can be converted to concentrated energy sources like glycogen or fatty acids and saved for later use. When there is not enough insulin produced or when the doorway no longer recognizes the insulin key, glucose stays in the blood rather entering the cells.
Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.
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