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20 Interesting Facts About Diabetes

Trivia to Amaze and Astound you

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Updated February 11, 2014

Diabetes interesting? As a person who has had type 2 diabetes for almost 20 years, I have heard many interesting facts about diabetes that have made me raise my eyebrows with surprise. The interesting facts below are fun to share.

20 Interesting Facts About Diabetes

  1. An early blood testing method called Clinitest introduced by Ames Diagnostics in 1941 entailed mixing urine and water in a test tube and adding a little blue pill that caused a chemical reaction that could cause severe physical burn injury due to extreme heat. The color of the liquid would indicate whether there was glucose in the urine.
  2. In 1969, 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.

  3. 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.

  4. India has the highest population of people with type 2 diabetes, more than any other country in the world.

  5. The country with the highest percentage of people with type 2 diabetes is a tiny island in the South Pacific called Nauru. It is the world's third smallest country after the Vatican City and Monaco.

  6. The earliest known written record that likely referred to diabetes was in 1500 B.C in the Egyptian Ebers papyrus. It referred to the symptoms of frequent urination.

  7. Diabetes symptoms such as thirst, weight loss, and excess urination were recognized for more than 1200 years before the disease got a name.

  8. The Greek physician Aretaeus was credited with coming up with the name "diabetes" in the first century A.D. and thought a snake bite caused diabetes.

  9. 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.

  10. Diabetes is a Greek word that means "to pass through." It was observed that urine quickly passed through patients with diabetes. The word mellitus is from Latin and means "sweet like honey."

  11. 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.

  12. 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.

  13. 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.

  14. 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."

  15. 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%.

  16. Before 1921, the treatment of choice for type 2 diabetes was starvation or semi-starvation.

  17. 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.

  18. In 1922, the pancreas was discovered to have a role in diabetes. Researchers studying digestion removed the pancreas from domestic dogs in a lab. An assistant noticed a large number of ants attracted to the dog's urine. The urine was tested and was found to have an extremely high level of sugar.

  19. Type 1 and type 2 diabetes were officially differentiated in 1936. However, the difference had been noted in the 1700's when a physician noted some people suffered from a more chronic condition than others who died in less than five weeks after onset of symptoms.

  20. In 1942, the first oral type 2 diabetes medication was identified, a sulfonylurea.

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