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Diabetes mellitus

What is diabetes mellitus? 

Diabetes mellitus is the scientific name for diabetes, but it is more commonly known simply as diabetes. It’s when your body can’t produce enough of a hormone called insulin, or the insulin it produces isn’t effective.  

There are two main types of diabetes mellitus: type 1 and type 2.  

Type 1 diabetes mellitus 

Type 1 diabetes mellitus is another name for the condition. Type 1 diabetes is where your blood glucose (sugar) level is too high because your body can’t make insulin.  

Read more about type 1.  

Type 2 diabetes mellitus 

Type 2 diabetes mellitus is another name for the condition. When you have type 2 diabetes the insulin your pancreas makes can’t work properly, or your pancreas can’t make enough insulin. This means your blood glucose (sugar) levels keep rising. 

Read more about type 2

Diabetes mellitus symptoms 

The symptoms of diabetes mellitus, particularly of type 1 diabetes, include going to the toilet a lot, feeling very thirsty, and feeling tired. You should visit your GP as soon as possible if you experience these symptoms.  

Read more about the symptoms

Insulin dependent diabetes mellitus 

Insulin dependent diabetes is an old name for type 1 diabetes. Type 1 diabetes has also been known as juvenile diabetes, because it’s usually diagnosed in children under 14, but it can be diagnosed much later than this. 

People with type 1 are insulin-dependent, as their bodies are unable to produce insulin, so they need to inject it regularly, until a cure is found.  

Read more about insulin

What causes diabetes mellitus? 

It’s not known what causes type 1 diabetes mellitus. It’s not related to your diet or lifestyle. Scientists have been trying to find the answer – you can read about this research here.   

Type 2 diabetes mellitus is caused by the body being unable to make enough insulin, or your body not recognising the insulin and using it properly. This is known as insulin resistance. Living with overweight or obesity, your age, ethnicity and family history are some of the risk factors of type 2.  

Types of diabetes mellitus 

There are other, less common types of diabetes mellitus, which we have information about on our website: 

  • Gestational diabetes – this is diabetes that can develop during pregnancy, which normally goes away after you have given birth. 
  • Maturity onset diabetes of the young (MODY) – This is a rare form of diabetes which runs strongly in families.  
  • Neonatal diabetes – This is a form of diabetes that a baby can be diagnosed with below the age of six months.  
  • Wolfram Syndrome - Wolfram Syndrome is a rare genetic disorder which is also known as DIDMOAD syndrome. 
  • Alström Syndrome - Alström Syndrome is a rare genetically inherited syndrome which has a number of common features. 
  • Latent autoimmune diabetes in adults (LADA) – This type of diabetes seems to straddle type 1 and type 2 diabetes, so some people call it type 1.5 diabetes or type 1 ½ diabetes. 
  • Type 3c diabetes - Type 3c diabetes is a type of diabetes that develops when another disease causes damage to the pancreas.  
  • Steroid-induced diabetes - Steroids can cause high blood sugar levels, so some people who take steroids can go on to develop diabetes. 
  • Cystic fibrosis diabetes – This is a type of diabetes that affects people with cystic fibrosis, and is caused by the build-up of sticky mucus in the pancreas. 

Diabetes mellitus treatment 

What treatment you have will depend on what kind of diabetes you have. Although there is currently no cure for diabetes mellitus, there are various ways the condition can be managed, such as insulin pumps or medication. If you have type 2, you might also be able to manage it with a healthy diet and regular exercise. 

Read about the treatments for diabetes mellitus

Differences between diabetes mellitus and diabetes insipidus 

A doctor might use the term ‘Diabetes mellitus’ to distinguish it from ‘Diabetes insipidus’, which is an unrelated and rare condition that causes you to pee a lot and feel thirsty.  

Although it shares these symptoms with diabetes mellitus, it’s important to note that they are two separate conditions. 

While diabetes mellitus is caused by your body being unable to produce the insulin it needs, diabetes insipidus is a disease where kidneys are unable to conserve water. Diabetes insipidus does not affect your blood sugar levels.  

The scientific names for the different conditions demonstrate this key difference: ‘mellitus’ is a Latin word that means sweet, as the urine of someone with diabetes has a sweet smell. In contrast, the word ‘insipidus’ means flavourless, as the person’s urine is colourless and odourless.  

You can read more about diabetes insipidus on the NHS website


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