What is diabetes mellitus?

The term ‘diabetes’ means excessive urination and the word ‘mellitus’ means honey.

Diabetes mellitus is a lifelong condition caused by a lack, or insufficiency of insulin. Insulin is a hormone – a substance of vital importance that is made by your pancreas. Insulin acts like a key to open the doors into your cells, letting sugar (glucose) in. In diabetes, the pancreas makes too little insulin to enable all the sugar in your blood to get into your muscle and other cells to produce energy. If sugar can’t get into the cells to be used, it builds up in the bloodstream. Therefore, diabetes is characterized by high blood sugar levels. Excess sugar is also excreted in the urine, hence the practice, in days gone by, of tasting it to diagnose the condition.

Types of diabetes

There are two main categories of diabetes: Type 1 diabetes tends to occur in childhood or early adult life, and always requires treatment with insulin injections. It is caused by the body’s own immune system destroying the insulin-making cells (beta-cells) of the pancreas. Type 2 diabetes usually develops slowly in adulthood. It is progressive and can sometimes be treated with diet and exercise, but more often Type 2 diabetes may require anti-diabetic medicine and/or insulin injections.

The number of people with diabetes in Ireland is growing rapidly. At present there are an estimated 180,000 people with the condition with approximately 50,000 of these undiagnosed.

Knowing the symptoms and risk factors for diabetes is important as non-diagnosis can seriously affect your quality of life. Undiagnosed or poor controlled diabetes can damage your heart, arteries, eyes, nerves and kidneys leading to serious health problems for you and your family to cope with.

You are more at risk of getting Type 2 diabetes if you are:

• Over 40 years of age
• Have a parent or brother/sister with diabetes
• Had diabetes during a pregnancy
• Are overweight for your height
• Do not take 30 minutes of physical activity daily
• Have high blood pressure
• Have high cholesterol

And/or recognize any of these symptoms:

• Blurred vision
• Fatigue, lack of energy
• Extreme thirst
• Frequent trips to the bathroom (urination) especially at night
• Rapid and unexplained weight gain or loss
• Frequent infections
• Numbness, pain or tingling in your hands or feet

The more risk factors or symptoms that you have the more likely you are to have diabetes or pre-diabetes.

If You Are Worried:

Speak to the Student Health Centre, your GP and tell him/her why you think you may have diabetes. A simple diabetes test will ease any worries you may have.
If you are diagnosed with diabetes, don’t worry. Your doctor will take steps to treat and control your condition. Early detection, effective treatment and good control will help you avoid the more serious health related problems of diabetes and allow you to maintain your quality of life.