25 Interesting Facts About Diabetes

Trivia can be fun and interesting, especially when you are learning about something that is close to home. Whether you have diabetes or know someone who does, you might want to learn some interesting facts about this disease.

Seeing how greatly treatment has evolved can be empowering. In addition, learning more about diabetes can help to increase your awareness and motivate you to take control. As the saying goes, knowledge is power.

25 Interesting Facts About Diabetes

  1. The earliest known written record that likely referred to diabetes was in 1,500 B.C in the Egyptian Ebers papyrus. It referred to the symptoms of frequent urination.
  2. Diabetes symptoms such as thirst, weight loss, and excess urination were recognized for more than 1,200 years before the disease was named.
  3. The Greek physician Aretaeus of Cappodocia (81-133 A.D) was credited with coining the term “diabetes” (meaning “flowing through” in Greek). He described a disease with symptoms of constant thirst, excessive urination, and weight loss.
  4. Dr. Thomas Willis (1621-1675) called diabetes the “pissing evil” and described the urine of people with type 2 diabetes as “wonderfully sweet, as if it was imbued with honey or sugar.” He was also the first to describe pain and stinging from nerve damage due to diabetes.
  5. In ancient times, doctors would test for diabetes by tasting urine to see if it was sweet. People who tasted urine to check for diabetes were called “water tasters.” Other diagnostic measures included checking to see if urine attracted ants or flies.
6. In the late 1850’s, a French physician named Priorry advised his  patients with diabetes to eat large quantities of sugar. Obviously, that method of treatment did not last, as sugar increases blood sugars.
7.  The role of the pancreas in diabetes was discovered by Josef von Mering and Oskar Minkowski in Austria in 1889, opening the door to research about the hormonal causes of the disease.
8. In 1969-1970, the first portable blood glucose meter was created by Ames Diagnostics. It was called the Ames Reflectance Meter (ARM). Ames later became a part of Bayer. The device looked a lot like the tricorder devices used in the original Star Trek series. They cost about $650 and were only for doctors to use in their practices or hospitals. Portable blood glucose meters for home use by patients were not sold in the U.S. until the 1980’s.
9. Dr. Richard Bernstein, author of the popular book Dr. Bernstein’s Diabetes Solution, was the first person to use a portable meter to check his blood sugar levels at home. He was an engineer at the time and in bad health due to type 1 diabetes. He obtained an ARM meter meant only for physicians. Since he wasn’t a physician at the time, he talked his wife (who was a psychiatrist) into obtaining the device for him. His diabetes condition drastically improved. He then campaigned for portable home blood glucose meters for patient use at home. He was unable to get medical journals to publish his studies, so at 43 years old he went to medical school and became an endocrinologist.
10. Dr. Elliott P. Joslin, founder of the Joslin Diabetes Center, was the first doctor to specialize in diabetes and to encourage self-management. He became interested after his aunt was diagnosed and was told there was no cure and little hope. She died of diabetes complications not long after. His mother was diagnosed the year he started his practice in 1898 (a few years after the death of his aunt). He helped her manage her diabetes and she lived 10 more years which was quite a feat for the times.
11. Dr. Elliot P. Joslin said diabetes is “the best of the chronic diseases” on account of it being “clean, seldom unsightly, not contagious, often painless and susceptible to treatment.”
12. In 1916, Dr. Frederick M. Allen developed a hospital treatment program that restricted the diet of diabetes patients to whiskey mixed with black coffee (clear soup for non-drinkers). Patients were given this mixture every two hours until sugar disappeared from the urine (usually within 5 days). They were then given a very strict low-carbohydrate diet. This program had the best treatment outcome for its time. Allen’s work drew the attention of Dr. Elliot P. Joslin who used it as a basis for calorie-restricted diet study and treatment.
13. Dr. Priscilla White pioneered treatment for diabetes in pregnancy. She joined the practice of Dr. Elliott P. Joslin in 1924 when the fetal success rate was 54%. By the time of her retirement in 1974, the fetal success rate was 90%.

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