diabetes-dictionaryNovember is Diabetes Awareness month. Michigan State University Extension offers an interesting look into how “diabetes” got its name.

Diabetes has been around for awhile

Diabetes has been around for centuries. In fact, cases of diabetes can be traced as far back as the ancient Egyptians. In the 1800s, dogs helped scientist study and determine how the pancreas and lack of the hormone insulin revealed signs of diabetes. In the 1930s up through the 1970s, society commonly referred to individuals with diabetes as having “sugar,” but the correct medical term for diabetes is ‘diabetes mellitus’. Today, healthcare teams most commonly refer to it as ‘diabetes’.

The words “diabetes” and “mellitus” have two very separate meanings. They are, however, linked together and have a meaningful connection.


Mellitus means, “pleasant tasting, like honey.” Ancient Chinese and Japanese physicians noticed dogs were particularly drawn to some people’s urine. When the urine was examined they found the urine had a sweet taste. What made the urine sweet were high levels of glucose, or sugar. That is how this discovery of sweet urine became part of the name, diabetes mellitus.


The ancient Greek word for diabetes means, “passing though; a large discharge of urine.” The meaning is associated with frequent urination, which is a symptom of diabetes. Both frequent urination and excess, sweet glucoses levels expelled in our urine can be signs of diabetes.

As an aside, I’ve had T1D for almost 52 years … and here are the names of my disease, over the years:

  • sugar diabetes
  • diabetes mellitus
  • juvenile diabetes
  • insulin dependent diabetic
  • Type 1 diabetic
  • PWD (person with diabetes)
  • T1D

Have you heard others?  Please share by replying on this blog for all to see!


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