Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Diabetes - "The Siphon"

(photo by Jill Brown)


Noun. Mid-16th century.
[Latin from Greek diabetes literally 'siphon', from diabaino go through.]

Either of two metabolic disorders marked by the production of excessive quantities of urine:

(a) (more fully diabetes mellitus [Latin mellitus sweet]) one in which the pancreas secretes insufficient insulin and the body in consequence fails to metabolize glucose, leading to loss of energy and accumulation of glucose in the blood and urine;

(b) diabetes insipidus [Latin insipidus insipid], a rare disorder of the pituitary gland caused by deficiency of vasopressin.

Diabetes gets its name directly from the Greek diabetes, meaning 'siphon', a connection made by early physicians that noted sufferers needed to urinate more frequently. In diabetes mellitus, the addition of the Latin word for 'sweet' references excess glucose in the urine; indeed, it's said that the Greeks noticed that urine excreted while in a hyperglycaemic state would attract bees and flies.

An odd quirk of diabetes is that sometimes it's a disease that's not taken particularly seriously. Its effects, however, can be devastating; prior to the discovery and clinical availability of insulin in 1922, a diagnosis of diabetes was invariably a death sentence. Even in modern times, however, if diabetes is not properly managed, the effects can be dire, including damage to eyesight, cognitive deficit, and an increased chance of cardiovascular disease and stroke; it is the most common cause of non-accidental amputations in the US, and the biggest cause of adult renal failure in the world.

What is truly terrifying, however, is that despite major advances in the understanding and treatment of diabetes, it is continuing to proliferate, particularly in Western countries. A sobering report in the British Medical Journal suggested that a staggering 1 in 3 adults in the UK might be what is termed as pre-diabetic - on the cusp of developing Type 2 diabetes, but showing no symptoms. Although the validity of the term 'pre-diabetic' has been questioned, the fact that many of us are making lifestyle choices that put us at risk of developing this terrible disease is beyond question.

Enough insulin!
(photo by Jeff Fillmore)
For further information on the different types of diabetes, click here.

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