Diabetes Glossary

Diabetes is a serious issue facing our community. But, when having conversations about the illness there are a lot of very specific terms that get used and it can be hard to know what they all mean. It also makes it harder to speak with health providers when they are using terms you may not know, leading to a feeling of not being in control of your medical life. That’s why this November, Diabetes Awareness Month, we wanted to provide everyone with an intro to the language of Diabetes so that you can take charge of your life.


  • A1C – “a test that measures a person’s average blood sugar level over the past 2 to 3 months. Hemoglobin is the part of a red blood cell that carries oxygen to the cells and sometimes joins with the glucose in the bloodstream. Also called hemoglobin A1C or glycosylated hemoglobin, the test shows the amount of glucose that sticks to the red blood cell, which is proportional to the amount of glucose in the blood.” (American Diabetes Association)
  • acidosis – “Too much acid in the body, usually from the production of ketones like acetone, when cells are starved; for a person with diabetes, the most common type of acidosis is called “ketoacidosis.”” (Dansinger, 2019)
  • adult-onset diabetes – “former term for type 2 diabetes, also formerly called noninsulin-dependent diabetes.” (Cleveland Clinic, “Diabetes: Glossary”)
  • aspartame – “a dietary sweetener with almost no calories and no nutritional value. (Brand names: Equal, NutraSweet)” (American Diabetes Association)
  • autoimmune disease – “A disorder of the body’s immune system in which the immune system mistakenly attacks itself; examples of these diseases include type 1 diabetes, hyperthyroidism caused by Graves’ disease, and hypothyroidism caused by Hashimoto’s disease.” (Dansinger, 2019)
  • basal rate – “The amount of insulin required to manage normal daily blood glucose fluctuations; most people constantly produce insulin to manage the glucose fluctuations that occur during the day. In a person with diabetes, giving a constant low-level amount of insulin via insulin pump mimics this normal phenomenon.” (Dansinger, 2019)
  • blood sugar – “the main sugar found in the blood and the body’s main source of energy.” (American Diabetes Association)
  • blood sugar level – “the amount of glucose in a given amount of blood.” (American Diabetes Association) 
  • blood glucose meter – “a small, portable machine used by people with diabetes to check their blood sugar levels. After pricking the skin with a lancet, one places a drop of blood on a test strip in the machine. The meter (or monitor) soon displays the blood sugar level as a number on the meter’s digital display.” (American Diabetes Association) 
  • blood glucose monitoring – “checking blood sugar level on a regular basis in order to manage diabetes. A blood sugar meter (or blood glucose test strips that change color when touched by a blood sample) is needed for frequent blood glucose monitoring.” (American Diabetes Association) 
  • body mass index (BMI) – “a measure used to evaluate body weight relative to a person’s height. BMI is used to find out if a person is underweight, normal weight, overweight or obese.” (American Diabetes Association) 
  • C-peptide – “ a substance the pancreas releases into the bloodstream in equal amounts to insulin. A test of C-peptide levels shows how much insulin the body is making.” (American Diabetes Association) 
  • calorie – “Energy that comes from food; some foods have more calories than others. Fats have more calories than proteins and carbohydrate. Most vegetables have few.” (Dansinger, 2019)
  • 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).” (Dansinger, 2019)
  • combination therapy – “the use of different medicines together (oral hypoglycemic agents or an oral hypoglycemic agent and insulin) to manage the blood sugar levels of people with Type 2 diabetes.” (American Diabetes Association) 
  • dawn phenomenon – “a sudden rise in blood glucose levels in the early morning hours. This is more common in people with type 1 diabetes than type 2 diabetes.” (Cleveland Clinic, “Diabetes: Glossary”)
  • diabetes insipidus – “a condition characterized by frequent and heavy urination, excessive thirst and an overall feeling of weakness. This condition may be caused by a defect in the pituitary gland or in the kidney. In diabetes insipidus, blood sugar levels are normal.” (American Diabetes Association) 
  • diabetes mellitus – “a condition characterized by hyperglycemia resulting from the body’s inability to use blood sugar for energy. In Type 1 diabetes, the pancreas no longer makes insulin and therefore blood sugar can not enter the cells to be used for energy. In Type 2 diabetes, either the pancreas does not make enough insulin or the body is unable to use insulin correctly.” (American Diabetes Association) 
  • diabetic ketoacidosis – “A severe, life-threatening condition that results from hyperglycemia (high blood sugar), dehydration, and acid buildup that needs emergency fluid and insulin treatment; DKA happens when there is not enough insulin and cells become starved for sugars. An alternative source of energy called ketones becomes activated. The system creates a buildup of acids. Ketoacidosis can lead to coma and even death” (Dansinger, 2019)
  • diabetic retinopathy – “diabetic eye disease; damage to the small blood vessels in the retina. Loss of vision may result.” (American Diabetes Association)
  • diabetogenic – causing diabetes
  • edema – swelling
  • Endocrinologist – “A doctor who treats people with hormone problems.” (Dansinger, 2019)
  • fructosamine test – “measures the number of blood glucose molecules linked to protein molecules in the blood. The test provides information on the average blood sugar level for the past 3 weeks.”  (American Diabetes Association)
  • Fructose – “a sugar that occurs naturally in fruits and honey. Fructose has 4 calories per gram.” (American Diabetes Association)
  • gestational diabetes mellitus – “a type of diabetes mellitus that develops only during pregnancy and usually disappears upon delivery, but increases the risk that the mother will develop diabetes later.” (American Diabetes Association)
  • Glucose – “a simple sugar found in the blood.” (Cleveland Clinic, “Diabetes: Glossary”)
  • glycemic index – “a ranking of carbohydrate-containing foods, based on the food’s effect on blood sugar compared with a standard reference food.” (American Diabetes Association)
  • Hyperglycemia – “High blood sugar; this condition is fairly common in people with diabetes. Many things can cause hyperglycemia. It occurs when the body does not have enough insulin or cannot use the insulin it does have.” (Dansinger, 2019)
  • Hyperinsulinemia – “a condition in which the level of insulin in the blood is higher than normal. Caused by overproduction of insulin by the body. Related to insulin resistance.” (American Diabetes Association)
  • Hypertension – “a condition present when blood flows through the blood vessels with a force greater than normal. Also called high blood pressure. Hypertension can strain the heart, damage blood vessels, and increase the risk of heart attack, stroke, kidney problems and death.” (American Diabetes Association)
  • Hypoglycemia “Low blood sugar, the condition often occurs in people with diabetes. Most cases occur when there is too much insulin and not enough glucose in your body.” (Dansinger, 2019)
  • Hypotension – “low blood pressure or a sudden drop in blood pressure. Hypotension may occur when a person rises quickly from a sitting or reclining position, causing dizziness or fainting.” (American Diabetes Association)
  • insulin – “a hormone that helps the body use glucose for energy. The beta cells of the pancreas make insulin.” (Cleveland Clinic, “Diabetes: Glossary”)
  • insulin pen – “a device for injecting insulin that looks like a fountain pen and holds replaceable cartridges of insulin. Also available in disposable form.” (American Diabetes Association)
  • insulin pump – “ a small, computerized device that is worn on a belt , in a pocket, or under clothes. Most insulin pumps delivers insulin through a small, flexible tube inserted under the skin. It delivers a steady flow of insulin 24 hours a day, and on-demand doses programmed by the user for food or high blood sugar.”  (Cleveland Clinic, “Diabetes: Glossary”)
  • insulin reaction – “Another term for hypoglycemia in a person with diabetes; this occurs when a person with diabetes has injected too much insulin, eaten too little food, or has exercised without eating extra food.” (Dansinger, 2019)
  • Ketosis – “a ketone buildup in the body that may lead to diabetic ketoacidosis. Signs of ketosis are nausea, vomiting, and stomach pain.” (American Diabetes Association)
  • Lancet – “ a fine, sharp pointed needle for pricking the skin. Used in blood glucose monitoring.” (Cleveland Clinic, “Diabetes: Glossary”)
  • Metabolism – “ All of the physical and chemical processes in the body that occur when food is broken down, energy is created and wastes are produced.” (Dansinger, 2019)
  • mg/dL – “Measurement that indicates the amount of a particular substance such as glucose in a specific amount of blood.” (Cleveland Clinic, “Diabetes: Glossary”)
  • Obesity – “a condition in which a greater than normal amount of fat is in the body; more severe than overweight; having a body mass index of 30 or more.” (American Diabetes Association)
  • Pancreas – “an organ behind the lower part of the stomach that is about the size of a hand. It has many roles, including the production of insulin and glucagon.” (Cleveland Clinic, “Diabetes: Glossary”)
  • peripheral neuropathy – “A type of nerve damage most commonly affecting the feet and legs.” (Dansinger, 2019)
  • Polydipsia – “Excessive thirst that lasts for long periods of time; may be a sign of diabetes.” (Dansinger, 2019)
  • Polyphagia – “Excessive hunger and eating; may be a sign of diabetes. When insulin levels are decreased or there is insulin resistance, the cells of the body do not get enough sugar, and hunger develops. People with polyphagia often lose weight, even though they are eating more than normal, because the excess calories are lost in the urine as sugar (glucose).” (Dansinger, 2019)
  • Polyuria – “excessive urination; may be a sign of diabetes.” (Cleveland Clinic, “Diabetes: Glossary”)
  • postprandial blood glucose – “the blood sugarlevel taken 1 to 2 hours after eating.” (Cleveland Clinic, “Diabetes: Glossary”)
  • Pre-diabetes – “a condition in which blood sugarlevels are higher than normal but are not high enough for a diagnosis of diabetes. People with pre-diabetes are at increased risk for developing Type 2 diabetes and for heart disease and stroke. Other names for pre-diabetes are impaired glucose tolerance and impaired fasting glucose.”  (Cleveland Clinic, “Diabetes: Glossary”)
  • protein – “One of three main classes of food; proteins are made of amino acids, which are called the “building blocks of the cells.” Cells need protein to grow and to mend themselves. Protein is found in many foods, like meat, fish, poultry, eggs, legumes, and dairy products.” (Dansinger, 2019)
  • Renal – “relating to the kidneys.” (Cleveland Clinic, “Diabetes: Glossary”)
  • self-management – “in diabetes, the ongoing process of managing diabetes. Includes meal planning, planned physical activity, blood sugar monitoring, taking diabetes medicines, handling episodes of illness and of low and high blood glucose, managing diabetes when traveling, and more. The person with diabetes designs his or her own self-management treatment plan in consultation with a variety of health care professionals such as doctors, nurses, dietitians, pharmacists, and others.” (American Diabetes Association)
  • sucrose – “a two-part sugar made of glucose and fructose. Known as table sugar or white sugar, it is found naturally in sugar cane and in beets.”  (American Diabetes Association)
  • 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 sugar to rise. People with type 1 diabetes must use insulin injections to control their blood sugar.” (Dansinger, 2019)
  • Type 2 diabetes – “A type of diabetes in which the insulin produced is either not enough or the person’s body does not respond normally to the amount present; therefore, glucose in the blood cannot get into the body’s cells for use as energy. This results in an increase in the level of glucose (sugar) in the blood.” (Dansinger, 2019)
  • urine testing – “also called urinalysis; a test of a urine sample to diagnose diseases of the urinary system and other body systems. Urine may also be checked for signs of bleeding. Some tests use a single urine sample. For others, 24-hour collection may be needed. And sometimes a sample is “cultured” to see exactly what type of bacteria grows.” (American Diabetes Association)
  • Vascular – “relating to the body’s blood vessels (arteries, veins and capillaries).” (Cleveland Clinic, “Diabetes: Glossary”)

Common Terms. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.diabetes.org/resources/for-students/common-terms.

Dansinger, M. (2019, February 17). Glossary of Diabetes Terms. Retrieved from https://www.webmd.com/diabetes/guide/diabetes-glossary-terms#1.

Diabetes: Glossary. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/9829-diabetes-glossary.


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