Health Topics

Glossary of Diabetes Terms

Acesulfame-k — an artificial sweetener used in place of sugar because it has very few calories.

Acetone — a chemical formed in the blood when the body uses fat instead of glucose (sugar) for energy. If acetone forms, it usually means the cells do not have enough insulin, or cannot use the insulin that is in the blood, to use glucose for energy. Acetone passes through the body into the urine.

Acidosis — too much acid in the body. For a person with diabetes, this can lead to ketoacidosis.

Acute — abrupt onset that is usually severe; happens for a limited period of time.

Adrenal glands — two endocrine glands that sit on top of the kidneys and make and release hormones such as epinephrine (adrenaline) which stimulates carbohydrate metabolism; norepinephrine which raises heart rate and blood pressure; and corticosteroid hormones which control how the body utilizes fat, protein, carbohydrates, and minerals and help reduce inflammation.

Adult-onset diabetes — former term for type 2 diabetes, also formerly called noninsulin-dependent diabetes.

Adverse effect — harmful effect.

Albuminuria — more than normal amounts of a protein called albumin in the urine. Albuminuria may be a sign of kidney disease, a problem that can occur in people who have had diabetes for a long time.

Alpha cell — a type of cell in an area of the pancreas called the islets of Langerhans. Alpha cells make and release a hormone called glucagon, which increases the glucose concentration in the blood.

Amino acids — the building blocks of proteins; the main material of the body’s cells. Insulin is made of 51 amino acids joined together.

Amyotrophy — a disease of diabetic neuropathy that causes muscle weakness and wasting.

Anomalies — birth defects; abnormalities.

Antibodies — proteins that the body produces to protect itself from foreign substances (such as bacteria or viruses).

Antidiabetic agent — a substance that helps a person with diabetes control the level of glucose in the blood so the body functions properly. (See also insulin, oral diabetes medication).

Antigens — substances that cause an immune response in the body. The body produces antibodies to fight antigens, or harmful substances, and try to eliminate them.

Antiseptic — An agent that kills bacteria. Alcohol is a common antiseptic used to clean the skin before injecting insulin in order to avoid infection.

Artery — a large blood vessel that carries blood from the heart to other parts of the body. Arteries are thicker than veins and have stronger, more elastic walls.

Artificial pancreas — a large machine used in hospitals that constantly measures glucose in the blood and releases the right amount of insulin in response. Studies are being conducted to develop a smaller version of this machine that could be implanted in the body to function as a real pancreas.

Aspartame — an artificial sweetener used in place of sugar because it has very few calories.

Asymptomatic — no symptoms; no clear sign that disease is present.

Atherosclerosis — a disease of the arteries in the heart (also called coronary artery disease or arteriosclerosis). Atherosclerosis occurs when the normal lining of the arteries deteriorates, the walls of the arteries thicken and deposits of fat and plaque block the flow of blood through the arteries. The arteries that supply blood to the heart become severely narrowed, decreasing the supply of oxygen-rich blood to the heart — especially during times of increased activity.

Autoimmune disease — disorder of the body’s immune system in which the immune system mistakes your body's own cells as invaders and attack them.

Autonomic neuropathy — nerve damage most often affecting the digestive system, blood vessels, urinary system and sex organs. Autonomic nerves are not under a person's control and function on their own.

Background retinopathy — also called nonproliferative retinopathy. Is the early stage of diabetic retinopathy that does not usually impair vision.

Basal rate — continuous supply of low levels of insulin, such as provided by the insulin pump.

Beta cell — a type of cell in an area of the pancreas called the Islets of Langerhans. Beta cells make and release insulin, which controls the glucose level in the blood.

Biosynthetic insulin — a man-made insulin much like human insulin.

Blood glucose — See: Glucose

Blood glucose testing — a method of testing how much glucose is in your blood. Blood glucose testing involves pricking your finger with a lancing device, putting a drop of blood on a test strip, and inserting the test strip into a blood glucose testing meter that displays your blood glucose level.

Blood pressure — the measurement of the pressure or force inside the blood vessels (arteries) with each beat of the heart. Blood pressure is written as two numbers; the first number, the systolic pressure, is the pressure in the arteries when the heart beats and fills the arteries with blood. The second number, the diastolic pressure, is the pressure in the arteries when the heart rests between beats.

Brittle diabetes — when a person's blood glucose level often shifts very quickly from high to low and from low to high. Also called labile diabetes and unstable diabetes.

Blood urea nitrogen (BUN) — waste product of the kidneys. Increased BUN levels may indicate early kidney damage.

Bunion — a bump or bulge on the first joint of the big toe caused by the swelling of a sac of fluid under the skin. Shoes that fit well can prevent bunions from forming. Bunions may lead to other problems, such as serious infection.

Callus — a small area of skin, usually on the foot, that has become thick and hard from rubbing or pressure. Calluses may lead to other problems, such as serious infection. Shoes that fit well can prevent calluses from forming.

Calorie — energy that comes from food. Some foods have more calories than others. Fats have many calories. Most vegetables have few. People with diabetes are advised to follow meal plans with suggested amounts of calories for each meal and/or snack.

Carbohydrate — one of the three main classes of foods and a source of energy. Carbohydrates are mainly sugars and starches that the body breaks down into glucose (a simple sugar that the body can use to feed its cells).

Cardiologist — a doctor who takes care of people with heart disease; a heart specialist.

Cardiovascular — relating to the heart and blood vessels (arteries, veins, and capillaries).

Certified diabetes educator (CDE) — a health care professional who is certified by the American Association of Diabetes Educators to teach people with diabetes how to manage their condition.

Cholesterol — a waxy, odorless substance made by the liver that is an essential part of cell walls and nerves. Cholesterol plays an important role in body functions such as digestion and hormone production. In addition to being produced by the body, cholesterol comes from animal foods that we eat. Too much cholesterol may cause a build-up in the artery walls and lead to atherosclerosis.

Claudication — See: Intermittent claudication

Coma — a severe emergency in which a person is not conscious because his or her blood glucose (sugar) is too high or too low.

Dawn phenomenon — a sudden rise in blood glucose levels in the early morning hours. This sometimes happens in people with type 1 diabetes and (rarely) in people with type 2 diabetes.

Dehydration — great loss of body water. If a person with diabetes has a very high blood sugar level, it causes increased water loss, and the person becomes very thirsty.

Delta cell — a type of cell in the pancreas which regulate other pancreatic hormones.

Dextrose — See: Glucose

Diabetes: see Type 1 diabetes and type 2 diabetes

Diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) — severe, untreated hyperglycemia (high blood sugar) that needs emergency treatment. DKA happens when there is not enough insulin. Ketoacidosis can lead to coma and even death.

Dietitian — an expert in nutrition who helps people plan the type and amount of foods to eat for special health needs. A registered dietitian (RD) has special qualifications.

Emergency medical identification — cards, bracelets, or necklaces with a written message, used by people with diabetes or other medical problems to alert others in case of a medical emergency, such as coma.

Endocrinologist — a doctor who treats people who have problems with their endocrine glands. The pancreas is an endocrine gland.

Exchange lists — a way of grouping foods together to help people on special diets stay on the diet. Each group lists food in a serving size. A person can exchange, trade, or substitute a food serving in one group for another food serving in the same group. The lists put foods into six groups: starch/bread, meat, vegetables, fruit, milk, and fats. Within a food group, each serving has about the same amount of carbohydrate, protein, fat, and calories.

Fasting plasma glucose test — the preferred method of diagnosing diabetes is the because it is easy to administer, convenient for patients and less expensive than other tests (according to the American Diabetes Association). The FPG measures a person’s blood glucose level after fasting or not eating anything for 10 to 12 hours. Normal fasting blood glucose is between 70 and 115 mg/dl for people who do not have diabetes. The standard diagnosis of diabetes is made when two blood tests show that your fasting blood glucose level is greater than or equal to 126 mg/dl.

Fats —substances that help the body use some vitamins and keep the skin healthy. They are also the major way the body stores energy. In food, there are two types of fats; saturated and unsaturated. To maintain your blood cholesterol and triglyceride (lipid) levels as near the normal ranges as possible, decrease the total amount of fat to 30% or less of your total daily calories and reduce saturated fat and cholesterol.

Fructose — a type of sugar found in many fruits and vegetables and in honey. Fructose is used to sweeten some diet foods.

Gangrene — the death of body tissues, usually due to a lack of blood supply, especially in the legs and feet.

Gastroparesis — a form of nerve damage that affects the stomach. Food is not digested properly and does not move through the stomach normally.

Gestational diabetes mellitus — a high blood glucose level that is discovered during pregnancy. As pregnancy progresses, there is an increased need for glucose for the developing baby. Additionally, hormone changes during pregnancy affect the action of insulin, resulting in high blood glucose levels. Usually, blood glucose levels return to normal after childbirth. However, women who have had gestational diabetes are at increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes later in life.

Glaucoma — an eye disease associated with increased pressure within the eye. Glaucoma can damage the optic nerve and cause impaired vision and blindness.

Glucagon — a hormone that raises the level of glucose (sugar) in the blood. Glucagon is sometimes injected when a person has lost consciousness (passed out) from a low blood sugar reaction. The injected glucagon helps raise the level of glucose in the blood.

Glucose — a simple sugar found in the blood. It is the body’s main source of energy; also known as dextrose.

Glucose tolerance test — a test to determine if a person has diabetes. The test is done in a lab or doctor’s office in the morning before the person has eaten. First a sample of blood is taken. Then the person drinks a liquid that has glucose (sugar) in it. Periodically, another sample of blood is taken to see how the body processes the glucose in the blood.

Glycosylated hemoglobin test (HbA1c) — an important blood test to determine how well you are managing your diabetes. It provides an average blood glucose measurement over the past six to twelve weeks and is used in conjunction with home glucose monitoring to make treatment adjustments. The ideal range for people with diabetes is generally less than 7 percent, and the target range for people with diabetes is less than 8 percent.

High blood pressure — a condition when the blood flows through the blood vessels at a force greater than normal. High blood pressure strains the heart, harms the arteries, and increases the risk of heart attack, stroke and kidney problems. Also called hypertension.

High blood sugar — See: Hyperglycemia

Home blood glucose monitoring — a way in which a person can test how much glucose (sugar) is in the blood. Also called self monitoring of blood glucose.

Hormone — a chemical released by the endocrine glands and other tissues to help control certain functions in the body. For instance, insulin is a hormone made by the beta cells in the pancreas, and when released, it triggers other cells to use glucose for energy.

Human insulin — bio-engineered insulin that is very similar to insulin made by your own body. The DNA code for making human insulin is put into bacteria or yeast cells and the insulin made is purified and sold as human insulin.

Hyperglycemia — high blood sugar that is a sign that diabetes is out of control. Many things can cause hyperglycemia. It occurs when the body does not have enough insulin or can not use the insulin it does have.

Hypertension — See: High blood pressure

Hypoglycemia — low blood glucose which occurs when there is too much insulin and not enough glucose in your body. Hypoglycemia can only occur in people taking insulin or an oral diabetes medication to manage diabetes; people who do not take diabetes medications to control their blood glucose levels do not develop hypoglycemia. Hypoglycemia occurs when a person with diabetes has taken too much diabetes medication; has missed a meal, not eaten the whole meal or eaten later than usual; exercised more than usual; or consumed alcohol.

Impotence — persistent inability of the penis to become erect or stay erect. Some men may become impotent after having diabetes for a long time because nerves and blood vessels become damaged.

Injection site rotation — changing the areas on the body where a person injects insulin. By changing the area of injection, the injections will be easier, safer and more comfortable. If the same injection site is used over and over again, hardened areas, lumps or indentations can develop under the skin which keep the insulin from being used properly. These lumps or indentations are called lipodystrophies.

Injection sites — places on the body where people can inject insulin most easily.

Insulin — a hormone that helps the body use glucose for energy. The beta cells of the pancreas make insulin.

Insulin dependent diabetes — former term used for type 1 diabetes.

Insulin mixture — a mixture of insulin that contains short- and intermediate- or long-acting insulin. You can buy premixed insulin to eliminate the need for mixing insulin from two bottles.

Insulin pump — a small, computerized device, about the size of a beeper, that is worn on a belt or put in a pocket. Insulin pumps have a small flexible tube with a fine needle on the end. The needle in inserted under the skin of the abdomen and taped in place. A carefully measured, steady flow of insulin is released into the tissue.

Insulin reaction — too low a level of glucose in the blood (hypoglycemia). This occurs when a person with diabetes has injected too much insulin, eaten too little food, or has exercised without eating extra food.

Insulin receptors — areas on the outer part of a cell that allow insulin in the blood to join or bind with the cell. When the cell and insulin bind together, the cell can take glucose from the blood and use it for energy.

Insulin resistance — when a person’s body will not allow insulin to work properly in the body, even if the person takes very high daily doses of insulin. This condition can occur when a person is overweight, and it often improves when the person loses weight.

Insulin shock — a severe condition that occurs when the level of blood glucose drops quickly.

Intermittent claudication — pain in the muscles of the legs that occurs off and on, usually while walking or exercising. The pain results from narrowing of the blood vessels feeding the muscle. Drugs are available to treat this condition.

Jet injector — a device that uses high pressure to push insulin through the skin and into the tissue.

Juvenile-onset diabetes — former term used for type 1 diabetes.

Ketoacidosis — See: Diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA)

Ketones — the waste products of fat burning. When your blood glucose gets too high, your body breaks down its own fat and protein for energy instead of glucose. When fat is used, ketones appear in your urine and blood. A large amount of ketones in your system can lead to a serious condition called diabetic ketoacidosis.

Kidney disease (nephropathy) — any one of several conditions caused by changes in the very small blood vessels in the kidneys. People who have had diabetes for a long time may develop nephropathy. Kidney disease is detected when urine test results indicate there is protein in the urine.

Kidney threshold — See: Renal threshold

Lancet — a fine, sharp pointed needle for pricking the skin. Used in blood glucose monitoring.

Laser treatment — the use of a strong beam of light (laser) to heal a damaged area. A person with diabetes might receive laser treatments to heal blood vessels in the eye.

Late-onset diabetes — former term used for type 2 diabetes.

Lipid — another term for a fat or fat-like substance in the blood. The body stores fat as energy for future use just like a car that has a reserve fuel tank. When the body needs energy, it can break down lipids into fatty acids and burn them like glucose.

Low blood sugar — See: Hypoglycemia

Metabolic syndrome – a collection of health risks that increase the chance of developing heart disease, stroke and diabetes. It is also known as Syndrome X, insulin resistance syndrome and dysmetabolic syndrome.

Metabolism — all of the physical and chemical processes in the body which occur when food is broken down, energy is created, and wastes are produced.

Mg/dl (milligrams per deciliter) — measurement that indicates the amount of glucose in a specific amount of blood.

Mixed dose — a prescribed dose of insulin in which two types of insulin are combined and injected at once. A mixed dose commonly combines regular insulin, which is fast-acting, with a longer-acting insulin such as NPH. A mixed dose may be prescribed to provide better blood glucose control.

Nephropathy — disease of the kidneys caused by damage to the small blood vessels or to the units in the kidneys that clean the blood. People who have had diabetes for a long time may develop nephropathy.

Neurologist — a doctor who treats people who have problems of the nervous system.

Neuropathy — nerve damage. People who have had diabetes for a long time may develop nerve damage.

Non-insulin dependent diabetes — former term for type 2 diabetes.

Nutritionist — See: dietitian.

Obesity —a condition when people who have 20 percent or more excess body fat for their age, height, sex, and bone structure. Obesity works against the action of insulin. Extra body fat is thought to be a risk factor for diabetes.

Ophthalmologist — a doctor who treats people with eye diseases.

Optometrist — a person professionally trained to test the eyes and to detect and treat eye problems and some diseases by prescribing and adapting corrective lenses.

Oral diabetes medications — medications that people take to lower the level of glucose in the blood. Oral diabetes medications are prescribed for some people whose pancreas still produces some insulin.

Pancreas — an organ behind the lower part of the stomach that is about the size of a hand. It makes insulin so the body can use glucose (sugar) for energy.

Peak action — the time when the effect of something is as strong as it can be, such as when insulin is having the most effect on blood glucose.

Periodontal disease — damage to the gums and tissues around the teeth. People who have diabetes are more likely to have periodontal disease than people who do not have diabetes.

Peripheral neuropathy — a type of nerve damage most commonly affecting the feet and legs. The arms, abdomen and back may rarely be affected.

Peripheral vascular disease (PVD) — any abnormal condition that affects the blood vessels outside the heart and lymphatic vessels. Often occurs as decreased blood flow to the hands and feet. People who have had diabetes for a long time may develop PVD.

Podiatrist — a health professional who diagnoses and treats foot problems.

Polydipsia — excessive thirst that lasts for long periods of time; may be a sign of diabetes.

Polyphagia —excessive hunger and eating; may be a sign of diabetes. People with polyphagia often lose weight even though they are eating more than normal.

Polyunsaturated fat — a type of fat that comes from vegetables.

Polyuria — increased need to urinate often; a common sign of diabetes.

Protein — one of three main classes of food. Proteins are made of amino acids, which are called the "building blocks of the cells." The cells need proteins to grow and to mend themselves. Protein is found in many foods such as meat, fish, poultry, eggs, legumes and dairy products.

Rebound effect — See: Somogyi effect

Regular insulin — a type of insulin that is rapid-acting.

Renal — relating to the kidneys.

Renal threshold — the point at which the blood is holding so much of a substance, such as glucose, that the kidneys allow the excess to "spill" into the urine. This is also called "kidney threshold," "kidney spilling point" or "leak point."

Retina — the center part of the back lining of the eye that senses light. It has many small blood vessels that are sometimes harmed when a person has had diabetes for a long time.

Retinopathy — a disease of the small blood vessels in the retina of the eye.

Risk factor — anything that increases the chance of a person developing a disease or condition.

Saccharin — an artificial sweetener that is used in place of sugar because it has no calories.

Self blood glucose monitoring — See: Home blood glucose monitoring

Somogyi effect — also called rebound effect. A swing to a high level of glucose in the blood from an extremely low level, which usually happens after an untreated insulin reaction during the night. People who experience high levels of blood glucose in the morning may need to test their blood glucose levels in the middle of the night. If blood glucose levels are repeatedly low, adjustments in evening snacks or insulin doses may be recommended.

Sorbitol — a sugar alcohol the body uses slowly. It is a sweetener used in diet foods. It is called a nutritive sweetener because it has four calories in every gram, just like table sugar and starch.

Sucrose —table sugar; a form of sugar that the body must break down into a more simple form before the blood can absorb it and take it to the cells.

Sugar — a class of carbohydrates that taste sweet. Sugar is a quick and easy fuel for the body to use. Some types of sugar are lactose, glucose, fructose, and sucrose

Sulfonylureas —pills or capsules that people take to lower the level of glucose in the blood.

Triglyceride — fats carried in the blood from the food we eat. Most of the fats we eat, including butter, margarines and oils, are in triglyceride form. Excess calories, alcohol or sugar in the body are converted into triglycerides and stored in fat cells throughout the body. The body needs insulin to remove this type of fat from the blood.

Type 1 diabetes — a type of diabetes in which the insulin-producing cells (called beta cells) of the pancreas are damaged. People with type 1 diabetes produce little or no insulin, so glucose cannot get into the body’s cells for use as energy. This causes blood glucose to rise. People with type 1 diabetes must use insulin injections to control their blood glucose.

Type 2 diabetes — a type of diabetes in which the insulin produced is either not enough or doesn’t work properly in the body. When there is not enough insulin or the insulin is not used as it should be, glucose cannot get into the body’s cells for use as energy. This causes blood glucose to rise.

U-100 — See: Unit of insulin

Ulcer — a break in the skin; a deep sore. People with diabetes may develop ulcers from minor scrapes on the feet or legs, from cuts that heal slowly, or from the rubbing of shoes that don’t fit well. Ulcers can become infected and should be treated promptly.

Ultralente insulin — a type of insulin that is long acting.

Unit of insulin — the basic measure of insulin. U-100 is the most common concentration of insulin. U-100 means that there are 100 units of insulin per milliliter (ml) of liquid.

Unstable diabetes — See: Brittle diabetes

Urine testing — Checking urine to see if it contains ketones. Urine testing is the only way to check for the presence of ketones, a sign of serious illness.

Urologist — a doctor who specializes in treatment of the urinary tract for men and women, and treatment of the genital organs for males.

Vaginitis — an inflammation or infection of the vaginal tissues, usually caused by a fungus. A woman with this condition may have itching or burning or vaginal discharge. Women who have diabetes may develop vaginitis more often than women who do not have diabetes.

Vascular — relating to the body's blood vessels (arteries, veins and capillaries).

Vein — a blood vessel that carries blood to the heart.

Vitrectomy — a procedure in which the gel from the center of the eyeball is removed because it has blood and scar tissue in it that blocks vision. An eye surgeon replaces the clouded gel with a clear fluid.

Xylitol — a nutritive sweetener used in dietary foods. It is a sugar alcohol that the body uses slowly. It contains four calories per gram, like table sugar and starch.