Your Mini-Glossary Related to All Things Diabetes

By Alan L. Rubin

You may have recently been diagnosed with diabetes or you have a close friend or loved one who has received the diagnosis. Diabetes and prediabetes are serious conditions, but this glossary can help clarify some terms you may encounter. Refer to this glossary on a regular basis whenever you come across unfamiliar terms and words.

Acarbose: An oral agent that lowers blood glucose by blocking the breakdown of carbohydrates in the intestine.

ACE inhibitor: A drug that lowers blood pressure but is especially useful when diabetes affects the kidneys.

Acetone: A breakdown product of fat formed when fat rather than glucose is being used for energy.

Advanced glycated end-products (AGEs): Combinations of glucose and other substances in the body. Too much may damage various organs.

Algorithm: In diabetes care, a step-by-step plan for determining how much insulin to use for the blood level of glucose and the intake of carbohydrates.

Alpha cells: Cells in the Islets of Langerhans within the pancreas that make glucagon, which raises blood glucose.

Amino acids: Compounds that link together to form proteins.

Amyotrophy: A form of diabetic neuropathy causing muscle wasting and weakness.

Angiography: Using a dye to take pictures of blood vessels to detect disease. In diabetes, angiography is often used in the eyes.

Antibodies: Substances formed when the body detects something foreign, such as bacteria.

Antigens: Substances against which an antibody forms.

Artificial pancreas: A large machine that can measure blood glucose and release appropriate insulin.

Atherosclerosis: Narrowing of arteries due to deposits of cholesterol and other factors.

Autoimmune disorder: Disease in which the body mistakenly attacks its own tissues.

Autonomic neuropathy: Diseases of nerves that affect organs not under conscious control, such as the heart, lungs, and intestines.

Avandia: Brand name for rosiglitazone. See Rosiglitazone.

Background retinopathy: An early stage of diabetic eye involvement that does not reduce vision.

Beta cells: Cells in the Islets of Langerhans in the pancreas that make the key hormone insulin.

Blood urea nitrogen (BUN): A substance in blood that reflects kidney function.

Body-mass index (BMI): A number derived by dividing your weight (in kilograms) by your height (in meters), and dividing that number by your height (in meters) again. Your BMI is an indicator of your appropriate weight for your height.

Borderline diabetes: A term formerly used to mean mild or early diabetes; it is no longer used.

Carbohydrate counting: Estimating the amount of carbohydrate in food in order to determine insulin needs.

Carbohydrate: One of the three major energy sources — the one usually found in grain, fruits, and vegetables, and the one most responsible for raising the blood glucose.

Cataract: A clouding of the lens of the eye often found earlier and more commonly in people with diabetes.

Charcots foot: Destruction of joints and soft tissue in the foot leading to an unusable foot as a result of diabetic neuropathy.

Cholesterol: A form of fat that is needed in the body for production of certain hormones. It can lead to atherosclerosis if present in excessive levels. Butter and egg yolks are high in cholesterol.

Continuous subcutaneous insulin infusion (CSII): Continuous delivery of insulin under the skin, usually by an insulin pump, to mimic the way the body provides insulin.

Conventional diabetes treatment: Usually refers to treatment in type 1 diabetes where only one or two shots of insulin are given daily.

Creatinine: A substance in blood that is measured to reflect the level of kidney function.

Dawn phenomenon: The tendency for blood glucose to rise early in the morning due to secretion of hormones that counteract insulin.

Detemir insulin: A long-acting insulin that provides a constant basal level for 24 hours.

Diabetes Control and Complications Trial (DCCT): The decisive study of type 1 diabetes that showed that intensive control of blood glucose would prevent or delay complications of diabetes.

Diabetic ketoacidosis: An acute loss of control of diabetes with high blood glucose levels and breakdown of fat leading to acidification of the blood. Symptoms are nausea, vomiting, and dehydration. This condition can lead to coma and death.

Diabetologist: A physician who specializes in diabetes treatment.

Dialysis: Artificial cleaning of the blood when the kidneys are not working.

DPP-4 (Dipeptidyl peptidase-4) inhibitors: A class of drugs for diabetes that blocks the rapid breakdown of natural glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1).

Endocrinologist: A physician who specializes in diseases of the glands, including the adrenal glands, thyroid, pituitary, parathyroid glands, ovaries, testicles, and pancreas.

Euglycemia: A state in which the blood glucose remains in the normal range.

Exchange plan: A dietary plan where foods that are similar in type are grouped together so that a diet can substitute any one for any other within that group. The seven groups are starches and breads, meats and meat substitutes, fruits, milks, vegetables, fats, and other carbohydrates.

Exenatide: An injectable medication that improves diabetic control by inducing weight loss, slowing absorption of carbohydrates, and helping the pancreas to release insulin when blood sugars are high.

Fiber: A substance in plants that can’t be digested. It provides no energy but can lower fat and blood glucose if it dissolves in water and is absorbed, or it can help prevent constipation if it does not dissolve in water and remains in the intestine.

Fructose: The sugar found in fruits, vegetables, and honey. It has calories but is more slowly absorbed than glucose.

Gastroparesis: A form of autonomic neuropathy involving nerves to the stomach, causing the stomach to hold food.

Gestational diabetes mellitus: Diabetes that occurs during a pregnancy, usually ending at delivery.

Glargine insulin: A long-acting form of insulin that provides a constant basal level for 24 hours.

Glimepiride: An oral agent that lowers glucose by raising insulin levels.

GLP-1 (Glucagon-like Peptide-1): A natural hormone made in the ilium of the small intestine that increases insulin secretion, decreases glucose uptake from the intestine, slows intestinal movement, and decreases appetite.

Glucagon: A hormone made in the alpha cell of the pancreas that raises glucose and can be injected in severe hypoglycemia.

Glucose: The body’s main source of energy in the blood and cells.

Glycemic index: The extent to which a given food raises blood glucose, usually compared to white bread. Low-glycemic-index foods are preferred in diabetes.

Glycogen: The storage form of glucose in the liver and muscles.

Glycosuria: Glucose in the urine.

Hemoglobin A1c: A measurement of blood glucose control reflecting the average blood glucose for the last 60 to 90 days.

High-density lipoprotein (HDL): A particle in blood that carries cholesterol and helps reduce atherosclerosis.

Honeymoon phase: A period of variable duration, usually less than a year, after a diagnosis of type 1 diabetes when the need for injections of insulin is reduced or eliminated.

Humalog insulin: See Lispro insulin.

Hyperglycemia: Levels of blood glucose greater than 100 mg/dl fasting or 140 mg/dl in the fed state.

Hyperinsulinemia: More insulin than normal in the blood; often found early in type 2 diabetes.

Hyperlipidemia: Elevated levels of fat in the blood.

Hyperosmolar syndrome: Very high glucose in type 2 diabetes associated with severe dehydration but not excessive fat breakdown and acidosis. It can lead to coma and death.

Hypoglycemia: Levels of blood glucose lower than normal, usually less than 60 mg/dl.

Impaired glucose tolerance (IGT): Levels of glucose between 140 and 200 mg/dl after eating; not normal but not quite high enough for a diagnosis of diabetes.

Impotence: Loss of the ability to have or sustain an erection of the penis.

Insulin glargine: An insulin that provides a constant basal level 24 hours a day.

Insulin pump: Device that slowly pushes insulin through a catheter under the skin but also can be used to give a larger dose before meals.

Insulin reaction: Hypoglycemia as a consequence of too much injected insulin for the amount of food or exercise.

Insulin resistance: Decreased response to insulin; found early in type 2 diabetes.

Insulin: The key hormone that permits glucose to enter cells.

Insulin-dependent diabetes: Former name for type 1 diabetes.

Intensive diabetes treatment: Using three or four daily insulin injections based on measurement of blood glucose, along with very careful diet and exercise, to approximate the normal range of glucose.

Islet cells: The cells in the pancreas that make insulin, glucagon, and other hormones.

Juvenile diabetes mellitus: Previous term for type 1 diabetes.

Ketones or ketone bodies: The breakdown products of fat metabolism.

Ketonuria: Finding ketones in the urine with a test strip.

Lancet: A sharp needle to prick the skin for a blood glucose test.

Laser treatment: Using a device that burns the back of the eye to prevent worsening of retinopathy.

Lipoatrophy: Indented areas where insulin is constantly injected.

Lipohypertrophy: Nodular swelling of the skin where insulin is constantly injected.

Lispro insulin: A very rapid-acting form of insulin that’s active within 15 minutes of injection.

Low-density lipoprotein (LDL): A particle in the blood containing cholesterol and thought to be responsible for atherosclerosis.

Macrosomia: The condition of a fetus growing very large when the mother’s diabetes is not controlled.

Macrovascular complications: Heart attack, stroke, or diminished blood flow to the legs in diabetes.

Metabolic syndrome: A combination of hypertension, increased visceral fat, high triglycerides, low HDL cholesterol, often obesity, and high uric acid associated with increased heart attacks.

Metformin: An oral agent for diabetes that lowers glucose by blocking release of glucose from the liver.

Microalbuminuria: The loss of small but abnormal amounts of protein in the urine.

Microvascular complications: Eye disease, nerve disease, or kidney disease in diabetes.

Miglitol: An oral hypoglycemic drug that lowers blood glucose by blocking the breakdown of complex sugars and starches.

Monounsaturated fat: A form of fat, from vegetable sources like olives and nuts, that does not raise cholesterol.

Morbidity rate: The rate at which sickness occurs compared with those who remain well.

Mortality rate: The rate at which death occurs compared with the total population.

Nateglinide: A drug similar to repaglinide that is given before a meal to stimulate insulin for that meal.

Neovascularization: Formation of new vessels, especially from the retina of the eye.

Nephropathy: Damage to the kidneys.

Neuropathic ulcer: An infected area, usually on the leg or foot, resulting from damage that was not felt.

Neuropathy: Damage to parts of the nervous system.

Non-insulin-dependent diabetes: Former name for type 2 diabetes.

NPH insulin: An intermediate-acting insulin, which starts to work in 4 to 6 hours and ends by 12 hours.

Ophthalmologist: A doctor who specializes in diseases of the eyes.

Oral hypoglycemic agent: A glucose-lowering drug taken by mouth.

Pancreas: The organ behind the stomach that contains the Islets of Langerhans where insulin is produced.

Periodontal disease: Gum damage, which is more common in uncontrolled diabetes.

Peripheral neuropathy: Pain, numbness, and tingling, usually in the legs and feet.

Pioglitazone: An oral agent that lowers glucose by reducing insulin resistance.

Podiatrist: A person who specializes in treating the feet.

Polydipsia: Excessive intake of water.

Polyunsaturated fat: A form of fat from vegetables that may not raise cholesterol but does lower HDL.

Polyuria: Excessive urination.

Postprandial: After eating.

Proliferative retinopathy: Undesirable production of blood vessels in front of the retina.

Protein: A source of energy for the body made up of amino acids and found in meat, fish, poultry, and beans.

Proteinuria: Abnormal loss of protein from the body into the urine.

Receptors: Locations on cells that bind to a substance like insulin to permit the substance to do its job.

Regular insulin: A fast-acting form of insulin, active in one to two hours and gone by four to six hours.

Repaglinide: An oral drug that lowers glucose by causing insulin secretion.

Retina: The part of the eye that senses light.

Retinopathy: Disease of the retina.

Rosiglitazone: One of a class of oral antidiabetic agents that lowers glucose by reducing insulin resistance. Not recommended.

Saturated fat: A form of fat from animals that raises cholesterol.

Secondary diabetes: Diabetes caused by some other disease, which raises glucose or blocks insulin.

SGLT-2 inhibitors (Sodium glucose co-transporter-2 inhibitors): A new class of drugs for type 2 diabetes that blocks glucose reabsorption in the kidney.

Sitagliptin: A once-daily pill that reduces blood glucose.

Somogyi effect: A rapid increase in blood glucose in response to hypoglycemia.

Sulfonylureas: The earliest class of glucose-lowering agents, which work by stimulating insulin secretion.

Synthetic: Produced by artificial means.

Triglycerides: The main form of fat in animals.

Troglitazone: The first of the class of glucose-lowering agents that reverses insulin resistance. Liver problems have caused its removal from the drug market.

Very-low-density lipoprotein (VLDL): The main particle in the blood that carries triglyceride.

Visceral fat: The fat accumulation that results in increased waist measurement.

Vitrectomy: Removal of the gel in the center of the eyeball because there has been leakage of blood and formation of scar tissue.