Diabetes mellitus is a group of metabolic diseases characterized by high blood sugar (glucose) levels that result from defects in insulin secretion, or its action, or both. Diabetes mellitus, commonly referred to as diabetes (as it will be in this article) was first identified as a disease associated with "sweet urine," and excessive muscle loss in the ancient world. Elevated levels of blood glucose (hyperglycemia) lead to spillage of glucose into the urine, hence the term sweet urine.
Classic symptoms of DM are polyuria, polydipsia, and weight loss. In addition, patients with hyperglycemia often have blurred vision, increased food consumption (polyphagia), and generalized weakness. When a patient with type 1 DM loses metabolic control (such as during infections or periods of noncompliance with therapy), symptoms of diabetic ketoacidosis occur. These may include nausea, vomiting, dizziness on arising, intoxication, delirium, coma, or death. Chronic complications of hyperglycemia include retinopathy and blindness, peripheral and autonomic neuropathies, glomerulosclerosis of the kidneys (with proteinuria, nephrotic syndrome, or end-stage renal failure), coronary and peripheral vascular disease, and reduced resistance to infections. Patients with DM often also sustain infected ulcerations of the feet, which may result in osteomyelitis and the need for amputation.
[1] Diabetes Prevention Program Research Group. Long-term effects of lifestyle intervention or metformin on diabetes development and microvascular complications over 15-year follow-up: the Diabetes Prevention Program Outcomes Study. The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology. 2015;3(11):866‒875. You can find more information about this study on the Diabetes Prevention Program Outcomes Study website.
Type 2 diabetes used to be called adult-onset diabetes or non-insulin dependent diabetes because it was diagnosed mainly in adults who did not require insulin to manage their condition. However, because more children are starting to be diagnosed with T2D, and insulin is used more frequently to help manage type 2 diabetes, referring to the condition as “adult-onset” or “non-insulin dependent” is no longer accurate.
Findings from the Diabetes Control and Complications Trial (DCCT) and the United Kingdom Prospective Diabetes Study (UKPDS) have clearly shown that aggressive and intensive control of elevated levels of blood sugar in patients with type 1 and type 2 diabetes decreases the complications of nephropathy, neuropathy, retinopathy, and may reduce the occurrence and severity of large blood vessel diseases. Aggressive control with intensive therapy means achieving fasting glucose levels between 70-120 mg/dl; glucose levels of less than 160 mg/dl after meals; and a near normal hemoglobin A1c levels (see below).

Family or personal history. Your risk increases if you have prediabetes — a precursor to type 2 diabetes — or if a close family member, such as a parent or sibling, has type 2 diabetes. You're also at greater risk if you had gestational diabetes during a previous pregnancy, if you delivered a very large baby or if you had an unexplained stillbirth.
Insulin is a hormone made by your pancreas that acts like a key to let blood sugar into the cells in your body for use as energy. If you have type 2 diabetes, cells don’t respond normally to insulin; this is called insulin resistance. Your pancreas makes more insulin to try to get cells to respond. Eventually your pancreas can’t keep up, and your blood sugar rises, setting the stage for prediabetes and type 2 diabetes. High blood sugar is damaging to the body and can cause other serious health problems, such as heart disease, vision loss, and kidney disease.
Considering that being overweight is a risk factor for diabetes, it sounds counterintuitive that shedding pounds could be one of the silent symptoms of diabetes. “Weight loss comes from two things,” says Dr. Cypess. “One, from the water that you lose [from urinating]. Two, you lose some calories in the urine and you don’t absorb all the calories from the sugar in your blood.” Once people learn they have diabetes and start controlling their blood sugar, they may even experience some weight gain—but “that’s a good thing,” says Dr. Cypess, because it means your blood sugar levels are more balanced.
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.)
Diabetes mellitus is classified into four broad categories: type 1, type 2, gestational diabetes, and "other specific types".[11] The "other specific types" are a collection of a few dozen individual causes.[11] Diabetes is a more variable disease than once thought and people may have combinations of forms.[37] The term "diabetes", without qualification, usually refers to diabetes mellitus.

Ketoacidosis, a condition due to starvation or uncontrolled diabetes, is common in Type I diabetes. Ketones are acid compounds that form in the blood when the body breaks down fats and proteins. Symptoms include abdominal pain, vomiting, rapid breathing, extreme lethargy, and drowsiness. Patients with ketoacidosis will also have a sweet breath odor. Left untreated, this condition can lead to coma and death.
In type 1 diabetes (formerly called insulin-dependent diabetes or juvenile-onset diabetes), the body's immune system attacks the insulin-producing cells of the pancreas, and more than 90% of them are permanently destroyed. The pancreas, therefore, produces little or no insulin. Only about 5 to 10% of all people with diabetes have type 1 disease. Most people who have type 1 diabetes develop the disease before age 30, although it can develop later in life.
Nerve damage from diabetes is called diabetic neuropathy and is also caused by disease of small blood vessels. In essence, the blood flow to the nerves is limited, leaving the nerves without blood flow, and they get damaged or die as a result (a term known as ischemia). Symptoms of diabetic nerve damage include numbness, burning, and aching of the feet and lower extremities. When the nerve disease causes a complete loss of sensation in the feet, patients may not be aware of injuries to the feet, and fail to properly protect them. Shoes or other protection should be worn as much as possible. Seemingly minor skin injuries should be attended to promptly to avoid serious infections. Because of poor blood circulation, diabetic foot injuries may not heal. Sometimes, minor foot injuries can lead to serious infection, ulcers, and even gangrene, necessitating surgical amputation of toes, feet, and other infected parts.

On behalf of the millions of Americans who live with or are at risk for diabetes, we are committed to helping you understand this chronic disease. Help us set the record straight and educate the world about diabetes and its risk factors by sharing the common questions and answers below. If you're new to type 2 diabetes, join our Living With Type 2 Diabetes program to get more facts.

John P. Cunha, DO, is a U.S. board-certified Emergency Medicine Physician. Dr. Cunha's educational background includes a BS in Biology from Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, and a DO from the Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences in Kansas City, MO. He completed residency training in Emergency Medicine at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center in Newark, New Jersey.
According to the National Institutes of Health, the reported rate of gestational diabetes is between 2% to 10% of pregnancies. Gestational diabetes usually resolves itself after pregnancy. Having gestational diabetes does, however, put mothers at risk for developing type 2 diabetes later in life. Up to 10% of women with gestational diabetes develop type 2 diabetes. It can occur anywhere from a few weeks after delivery to months or years later.
Elevated homocysteine levels in the blood called hyperhomocysteinemia, is a sign that the body isn't producing enough of the amino acid homocysteine. is a rare and serious condition that may be inherited (genetic). People with homocystinuria die at an early age. Symptoms of hyperhomocysteinemia include developmental delays, osteoporosis, blood clots, heart attack, heart disease, stroke, and visual abnormalities.
Skin care: High blood glucose and poor circulation can lead to skin problems such as slow healing after an injury or frequent infections. Make sure to wash every day with a mild soap and warm water, protect your skin by using sunscreen, take good care of any cuts or scrapes with proper cleansing and bandaging, and see your doctor when cuts heal slowly or if an infection develops.

Although urine can also be tested for the presence of glucose, checking urine is not a good way to monitor treatment or adjust therapy. Urine testing can be misleading because the amount of glucose in the urine may not reflect the current level of glucose in the blood. Blood glucose levels can get very low or reasonably high without any change in the glucose levels in the urine.

The classic symptoms of diabetes such as polyuria, polydypsia and polyphagia occur commonly in type 1 diabetes, which has a rapid development of severe hyperglycaemia and also in type 2 diabetes with very high levels of hyperglycaemia. Severe weight loss is common only in type 1 diabetes or if type 2 diabetes remains undetected for a long period. Unexplained weight loss, fatigue and restlessness and body pain are also common signs of undetected diabetes. Symptoms that are mild or have gradual development could also remain unnoticed.


Older people may have a difficult time adding exercise to their daily life, particularly if they have not been active or if they have a disorder that limits their movement, such as arthritis. However, they may be able to add exercise to their usual routine. For example, they can walk instead of drive or climb the stairs instead of take the elevator. Also, many community organizations offer exercise programs designed for older people.
Insulin Therapy. Exogenous insulin is given to patients with diabetes mellitus as a supplement to the insufficient amount of endogenous insulin that they produce. In some cases, this must make up for an absolute lack of insulin from the pancreas. Exogenous insulin is available in various types. It must be given by injection, usually subcutaneously, and because it is a potent drug, the dosage must be measured meticulously. Commonly, regular insulin, which is a fast-acting insulin with a short span of action, is mixed with one of the longer-acting insulins and both types are administered in one injection.

Findings from the Diabetes Control and Complications Trial (DCCT) and the United Kingdom Prospective Diabetes Study (UKPDS) have clearly shown that aggressive and intensive control of elevated levels of blood sugar in patients with type 1 and type 2 diabetes decreases the complications of nephropathy, neuropathy, retinopathy, and may reduce the occurrence and severity of large blood vessel diseases. Aggressive control with intensive therapy means achieving fasting glucose levels between 70-120 mg/dl; glucose levels of less than 160 mg/dl after meals; and a near normal hemoglobin A1c levels (see below).
But preventing the disease from progressing if you already have it requires first being able to spot the signs and symptoms of diabetes when they appear. While some type 2 diabetes symptoms may not ever show up, you can watch out for the following common signs of the disease and alert your doctor, especially if you have any of the common risk factors for diabetes. Also keep in mind that while most signs of type 2 diabetes are the same in men and women, there are some distinctions.
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