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Diabetes in perspective

Today, diabetes mellitus, as it is known medically, represents a growing threat to human health and well-being around the world. Characterised by abnormal blood sugar levels, diabetes affects an estimated 150 to 200 million people. In the EU-25 alone, some 19 million patients have been diagnosed, while a large number are believed to remain undiagnosed. Many people have diabetes for years and simply do not realise it until the symptoms are recognised.

The most prevalent forms of diabetes are caused by decreased production of or sensitivity to insulin, a pancreatic hormone that allows the body to absorb sugar. With deficient insulin function, sugar accumulates in the blood, leading to vascular damage. Symptoms include dehydration, fatigue and nausea, while long-term complications include heart disease, kidney failure, retinal damage and blindness, nerve damage and risk of amputation.

Living with diabetes

Patient understanding and participation is vital in the treatment of diabetes, as blood glucose levels change and must be monitored throughout the day. A healthy lifestyle is crucial, including a proper diet and exercise.

The European Commission is working to reduce fragmentation in EU research and to promote scientific excellence. This leaflet highlights a few examples of European projects aimed at helping in the fight against diabetes.


The ancient Greeks coined the term ‘diabetes’, combining their words for ‘siphon’ and ‘sweet’. ‘Mellitus’ means ‘honey’ in Latin. The use of these terms is based on the observation that diabetics produce excessive amounts of urine that is high in glucose and attracts bees and flies.



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