MedTerm Corner – Diabetes

Diabetes on a white board

MedTerm Corner – Diabetes

Welcome back to Medical Terminology Corner!

Let’s talk about a common disease that affects a lot of people and that is still not curable even though we have some very good and effective treatments for the disease – Diabetes. The name originated from old Greek: διαβαίνω: diabaino— cross, pass through, flow through).

“Diabetes” is the general term for multiple diseases with one common symptom – copious urination or polyuria (definition of the prefix poly- is many or excessive and –uria: urine). Most of the time when people use term “diabetes” they talk about diabetes mellitus – a disease with high glucose levels in the blood.

Ancient Greek physician Aretaeus from  Cappadocia (30-90?A.D.) described excessive polyuria, that was related, in his opinion, to the abnormal water flow in the body.

Another type of diabetes – diabetes insipidus, although extremely rare, was known since old ages but, until 18th century, people did not know the difference between diabetes mellitus and diabetes insipidus. So then, diabetes with the urine that was sweet to taste (imagine that doctors in old ages had to taste patient’s urine) was called – diabetes mellitus

(from Latin mel — honey).

In the 19th and the beginning of the 20th centuries, there was a significant scientific research done on diabetes insipidus that was related to the abnormality of the central nervous system and posterior (back) lobe of the hypophysis (pituitary gland) or neurohypophysis, when neurohypophysis does not secrete enough of the antidiuretic hormone (ADH) or vasopressin. In other type of diabetes insipidus there are normal levels of vasopressin, but impaired response to the hormone from kidneys.

In clinical descriptions, the term “diabetes” most of the time means excessive thirst or polydipsia (the meaning of the -dipsia is thirst) and excessive urination or polyuria (seen in both – diabetes insipidus and diabetes mellitus), but there are other types of diabetes.

Diabetes mellitus is characterized by high levels of sugar in the blood while diabetes insipidus is a disease where kidneys are unable to conserve water.

Diabetes insipidus (DI) is a rare disease while diabetes mellitus is widely spread and very common. The causes, symptoms, treatment and prognosis for diabetes insipidus are different from diabetes mellitus.

Comparison chart

Diabetes Insipidus versus Diabetes Mellitus comparison chart
Diabetes Insipidus Diabetes Mellitus
Characteristic symptoms Excessive thirst, excess volume of severely diluted urine. High blood sugar, excessive urination, increased thirst, increased hunger.
Incidence 3 in 100,000 people 7.7 per 1000 people
Causes Deficiency of ADH. Brain tumor, head injury, medication such as lithium, genetics Type 1 – Autoimmune Disease; Type 2 – Genetics, lifestyle, infection
Treatment Typically desmopressin (nasal spray) or IM, IV hypertonic saline solution (3% or 5%). Thiazide diuretics. Insulin, oral medications and lifestyle management
Prognosis No effect on life expectancy Up to 10 years shorter life expectancy
Curable No No

“Diabetes” in general usage refers to diabetes mellitus, which is of 3 types — gestational, Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes.

Next time we will look into 3 types of diabetes mellitus or diabetes.


Rita Galin
Supervisor, Russian Interpreter at UMHS Interpreter Services
Rita was born in Estonia, but her native language is Russian. She has a medical degree from Tartu State University (Tartu, Estonia), one of the oldest universities in Europe. She completed an internship in Neurology and Neurosurgery, attended and completed Adolescent Pathophysiology courses in Continuing Medical Education Institute, and worked as a Neurologist at the Adolescent Outpatient Clinic in Tallinn, Estonia. Rita’s clinical interests are in Adolescent Neurologic Pathophysiology as well as Young Adult Psychology.

Rita has worked for the University of Michigan Health System since 1995 as a Medical Interpreter, and was one of the first two staff Medical Interpreters at UMHS. She has presented on Cultural Specifics and Differences between medical systems in the former Soviet Union and the US. She has assisted in the creation of a video training on clear communications with LEP patients through an Interpreter for medical students at UMHS.

Rita is one of the creators of and the only instructor of the UMHS Interpreter Services course Medical Terminology and Body Systems, a 40-hour training that is national accredited by CCHI. She is also a member of the Diversity at the End of Life Committee at UMHS.

No Comments

Post a Reply