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Diabetes Dictionary

The “diabetes lingo” can be overwhelming for the newly diagnosed or even those who have lived with the disease for years. The list below is a basic reference tool to help you understand general diabetes-related terminology. This is not a tool for self-diagnosis or a substitute for medical treatment. If you do not find a term you are looking for, please use the Health Library, which offers a more comprehensive listing of medical terminology. 

A1C test/Hemoglobin A1C test – this test shows the average level of sugar (glucose) in your blood over the last six to eight weeks

Acute – lasting a short time but often causing a serious problem

Artery – the type of blood vessel that carries blood and oxygen from the heart to the rest of the body

Aspartame – a dietary sweetener with almost no calories and no nutritional value (NutraSweet, Equal)

Autoimmune disease – a disorder in which a person's immune system attacks parts of his or her own body

Basal insulin – the insulin that provides the body with a steady, low level of insulin throughout the day and night; may be given by long-acting insulin injections or continuous release of faster-acting insulin in a pump

Beta cell – a type of cell in the pancreas

Blood glucose – type of sugar found in the blood

Blood pressure – the pressure of blood flowing through blood vessels

Bolus insulin – meal bolus; provides insulin needed to stop the rise in blood sugar levels that occurs after meals

Brittle diabetes – when a person’s blood glucose level moves from high to low and low to high frequently

Callus – a localized firm thickening of the upper layer of skin as a result of repetitive friction

Calorie – a unit of food energy

Carbohydrate – type of fuel for the body that contains sugar and starches

Cardiologist doctor who treats disorders of the heart.

Cardiovascular disease – disease affecting the heart or blood vessels

Cataract – clouding of the lens of the eye

Cell basic building block of all living things

Cholesterol – a white crystalline substance found in animal tissues and various foods; normally synthesized by the liver and important as a constituent of cell membranes and a precursor to steroid hormones; its level in the bloodstream can influence the pathogenesis of certain conditions, such as the development of atherosclerotic plaque and coronary artery disease

Chronic – lasting a long time

Circulation – the flow of blood through the body's blood vessels and heart

Coma – varying degrees of unconsciousness from which a person may not awaken

Complications – difficulties/problems

Congenital defects – birth defects

Correction bolus – provides insulin need to decrease elevated blood sugars

Creatinine – a chemical waste molecule generated from muscle metabolism

Dehydration – excessive loss of body water

Dextrose – better known today as glucose, this sugar is the chief source of energy in the body

Diabetes insipidus – excessive discharge of urine from the body caused by a deficiency in the quantity of antidiuretic hormone being produced in the body

Diabetic coma – coma in a diabetic due to the buildup of ketones in the bloodstream

Diabetic ketoacidosis – a feature of uncontrolled diabetes mellitus characterized by a combination of ketosis and acidosis; Ketosis is the accumulation of substances called ketone bodies in the blood; Acidosis is increased acidity of the blood

Diabetes mellitus – disorder in which there is decreased insulin in the body or the body's insulin is not effective, resulting in high blood sugar, increased thirst and urine, and many other side effects

Diabetic retinopathy – a common complication of diabetes affecting the blood vessels in the retina (the thin light-sensitive membrane that covers the back of the eye); may lead to blindness if untreated

Diabetologist – a doctor who specializes in treating people with diabetes

Dupuytren's contracture – a condition associated with diabetes in which the fingers and the palm of the hand thicken and shorten, causing the fingers to curve inward

Endocrine gland – any of various glands producing hormonal secretions that pass directly into the bloodstream; endocrine glands include the thyroid, parathyroids, anterior and posterior pituitary, pancreas, adrenals, pineal and gonads

Endocrinologist – doctor who treats disorders of the glands that make hormones

Endocrinopathy – disease of the glands that make hormones; hormonal imbalance

Euglycemia  – a normal level of glucose in the blood

Fat – one of the three nutrients used as energy sources by the body (the other two are proteins and carbohydrates)

Food and Drug Administration – government agency that regulates foods and drugs

Fructose – a sugar that occurs naturally in fruits and honey; fructose has four calories per gram

Gangrene – death of tissue caused by loss of blood flow and usually followed by infection

Gestational diabetes mellitus – any diabetes that first occurs during pregnancy; may be diet controlled or require insulin

Gland – tissue that produces a material, such as saliva or a hormone

Glaucoma – increased pressure inside the eye that causes visual problems

Genes – material passed from parent to child that determines the make-up of the body and mind

Glucagon injection – injection used to treat hypoglycemia when the person has passed out or can not safely swallow or ingest food

Glucose tablets – chewable tablets made of pure glucose used for treating hypoglycemia

Glucose tolerance test – test that measures blood sugar levels over a certain amount of time in a patient after he/she drinks a beverage that contains a measured amount of sugar

Glycogen – one form in which body fuel is stored; stored primarily in the liver and broken down into glucose when needed by the body

Gram – a unit of weight and mass measurement the metric system

HDL cholesterol – stands for high density lipoprotein cholesterol

Hormone – substance made by a gland in the body that regulates another part of the body

Hyperglycemia too much sugar in the blood

Hypoglycemia – not enough sugar in the blood

Hypertension – high blood pressure

Hyperthyroidism – overactive thyroid gland

Immune system – the cells and substances that protect the body from infection and foreign matter

Insulin – a hormone made by the pancreas that controls blood sugar levels

Ketoacidosis – occurs when there is not enough insulin in your system or there is an increase in the counterregulatory hormones from physical illness or emotional stress

Ketone – chemicals that appear in the blood and urine when your body burns fat for energy; a product of metabolizing (using) fats rather than the sugar glucose for energy; sometimes called acetone

Ketone bodies – substances that increase in the blood and urine when too much body fat and too many carbohydrates are being broken down, usually because of starvation or serious, untreated diabetes mellitus

Kidney – one of two organs in the lower back that filter blood and make urine

Lancet – a finger-pricking device used to obtain blood for testing sugar levels

LDL cholesterol – stands for low density lipoprotein cholesterol

Lipid – fat

Liver – large organ that helps in many body functions, including digestion, metabolism and storage of substances

Lymph – clear liquid tissue

Lymph node – tissue that filters disease germs from the blood; also called a lymph gland

Metabolism – total of all the important actions in the body that keep it alive

Myocardial infarction heart attack

Nerve – string-like tissue that carries messages to and from the brain and spinal cord, and tells muscles to move

Neurologist – doctor who treats disorders of the central nervous system and nerves

Neuropathy – a disturbance in the function of the brain or spinal cord that may affect the nerves and muscles of the body

Obesity – the condition of being obese; increased body weight caused by excessive accumulation of fat

Obstetrician – doctor who takes care of pregnant women and delivers babies

Ophthalmologist – doctor who treats eye disorders

Optician  – person who makes glasses

Optometry – the study of the eye and vision

Pancreas – organ that makes hormones, including insulin, and digestive juices

Pathologist – doctor who studies the changes in the body and its tissues caused by disease

Pathology – the study of the changes in the body and body tissue caused by disease

Podiatrist – foot doctor

Polyuria – too much urine being made

Prosthesis – artificial body part

Protein – a large molecule composed of one or more chains of amino acids in a specific order determined by the base sequence of nucleotides in the DNA coding for the protein

Renal – having to do with the kidney

Retina – innermost layer of the eye

Retinopathy – any disease of the retina, the light-sensitive membrane at the back of the eye

Saccharin – sweetener with no nutritional value or calories

Sharps container – container used to store used lancets and needles safely

Starch – a white, tasteless, solid carbohydrate, occurring in the form of minute granules in the seeds, tubers, and other parts of plants, and forming an important constituent of rice, corn, wheat, beans, potatoes, and many other vegetable foods.

Stroke – the sudden death of some brain cells due to a lack of oxygen when the blood flow to the brain is impaired by blockage or rupture of an artery to the brain

Sucralose  – a sweetener made from sugar, but with no calories or nutritional value

Sucrose – a nonreducing crystalline disaccharide made up of glucose and fructose, found in many plants but extracted as ordinary sugar mainly from sugar cane and sugar beets; widely used as a sweetener or preservative

Sugar – a sweet crystalline or powdered substance, white when pure, consisting of sucrose obtained mainly from sugar cane and sugar beets and used in many foods, drinks and medicines to improve their taste

Syringe – a device used in medicine to inject fluid into or withdraw fluid from the body; medical syringes consist of a needle attached to a hollow cylinder that is fitted with a sliding plunger; the downward movement of the plunger injects fluid; upward movement withdraws fluid

Thyroid Gland – gland in the neck that makes the thyroid hormones, which are important in controlling metabolism

Triglyceride  – the storage form of fat in the body; high triglyceride levels may occur when diabetes is out of control

Ulcer –sore

Urine  – pale yellow liquid waste material and sediment

Urologist – doctor who treats disorders of the urinary tract of men and women, and the genital tract of men

Vascular – the blood vessels of the body, as a group, are referred to as the vascular system

Vein – the type of blood vessel that carries blood back to the heart from the rest of the body

Last revised July 2009, Adult Diabetes Education Program