A few hundred years ago Diabetes was known as “Pissings disease” or “The Pissing evil”. Excessive pissing (urination) is still the most common symptom. People with the pissing evil would notice that their piss seemed to attract ants whereas other people’s piss did not. On further investigation it was found that the piss that attracted the ants was sweet. In an age where there no blood tests for blood glucose doctors would taste a person’s piss and if it was sweet would say “I can confirm your piss is sweet – you have the pissing evil”. This sweetness in the urine gives Diabetes the other half of its scientific name, Mellitus, which is a Latin word for honey or sweetness.

I forgot to tell you about the meaning of the word “Diabetes”. It is a Greek word that means ‘siphon’. A siphon is when a liquid is sucked out from a container seeming to defy gravity – it goes on and on until there is none left. Why, you may ask, does modern science often use a Greek and a Latin word together, like “Diabetes Miletus”? Why not use words that everybody understand like “Sweet Piss”? I don’t know the answer to that question but if you find out please let me known.

Another common symptom of diabetes is (and this is an obvious one) excessive thirst. This makes sense when we are doing so much pissing. “You have diabetes” a nurse told a patient who woke up after a heart operation. “No I don’t” replied the patient. When they looked into it was found that he had probably had Diabetes for over 10 years but he had never experienced any symptoms. Having no symptoms can be fatal and it is probably the reason Diabetes it is known as “the silent assassin”. A friend of mine died at the age of 36. Initially on his death certificate for the reason he died they wrote “Heart attack”. They did a post-mortem and had to issue a new death certificate that read “Undiagnosed diabetes”. Other symptoms of diabetes are any one or more or none of the following: tiredness, weight loss, sores not healing and fuzzy eye sight.

You should be asking the question; “Why all the pissing and drinking and tiredness and other symptoms?” We are now getting closer to answering the question “what is Diabetes?”

Insulin was discovered in 1921 by Fred Banting. He was shown what experiments needed to be done to make this discovery in a dream. This very important discovery opened the way for us to both understand and treat Diabetes. Before 1921 people with Diabetes were put on a starvation diet as this seemed to be the way that kept them alive the longest. In the end they would die of starvation from the diet or of the complications of uncontrolled diabetes.

Insulin is a hormone that enables glucose to go from the blood into the cells of the body. When there is no insulin, not enough insulin or the insulin is not effective then glucose (ie sugar) in the blood does not get to the body cells where it is needed like the muscles, lungs and stomach. The level of glucose gets more and the body cells have less and less glucose.

So, if you have Diabetes because your body does not make your own insulin you will need to inject insulin. If you have enough insulin but you are insulin resistant (the insulin does not work as it should) losing weight, eating correctly and exercise is often all you need for your blood glucose to be normalised. If this does not work then you may have to take tablets.

In a person who does not have Diabetes their blood sugar levels remain within the normal (3.5 to 6.1 mmols/l after not eating for about 8 hours) range. Diabetes is a chronic condition where blood sugar are not controlled automatically. This is because our bodies are not producing enough insulin or we are insulin resistant. This means our own intervention and understanding is so very important. If you wake up every morning with blood sugars of over 6.1 we know this is going to start to cause damage to blood vessels. You have diabetes!

In Summary:

Diabetes: A Chronic Condition where blood glucose is controlled primarily by one or more of the following:

  • Eating well,
  • Exercise,
  • Medication (insulin and/or tables).

Diabetes that is controlled in this way is not a disease, sickness or illness. People with Diabetes (the controlled sort) tend to live more in touch with their body, soul and spirit. I have found that people with diabetes are exceptionally kind, considerate and gracious. They show an interest in other, have friends and make the most of very day.

Undiagnosed and Uncontrolled Diabetes: A Chronic Condition where blood glucose is often outside the normal range. While this sort of diabetes can be without symptoms it is most commonly got one or more of the following:

  • Polyuria – the need to urinate frequently
  • Polydipsia – increased thirst & fluid intake
  • Polyphagia – increased appetite

This sort of Diabetes, if not brought in check, can lead to:

  • Blindness or Loss of vision – diabetes is the largest cause of blindness for people aged 18 to 65
  • Kidney Failure – diabetes is the largest single most common cause of kidney failure
  • Amputation – diabetes is the largest cause of a full or partial lower limb amputation
  • Cardiac failure and strokes – 50% of all cardiac and stroke victims in South African state hospitals have diabetes or are latent diabetics.