Diabetes is confusing! Lots of medical terms are going to be new to you. But, understanding them is important. This glossary of diabetes terms provides the definitions of words that are commonly used throughout the Defeat Diabetes Foundation website as well as other sources of diabetes information and among medical professionals. Terms are listed alphabetically, and only the meanings which pertain to diabetes are included.
Select word or term Alphabetically
A1C – A test that measures a person’s average blood glucose 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.
Acanthosis Nigricans – A skin condition characterized by darkened skin patches; common in people whose body is not responding correctly to the insulin that they make in their pancreas (insulin resistance). This skin condition is also seen in people who have pre-diabetes or type 2 diabetes.
Acarbose – An oral medicine used to treat type 2 diabetes. It blocks the enzymes that digest starches in food. The result is a slower and lower rise in blood glucose throughout the day, especially right after meals. Belongs to the class of medicines called alpha-glucosidase inhibitors. (Brand name: Precose.)
ACE Inhibitor – An oral medicine that lowers blood pressure; ACE stands for angiotensin converting enzyme. For people with diabetes, especially those who have protein (albumin) in the urine, it also helps slow down kidney damage.
Acesulfame – A dietary sweetener with no calories and no nutritional value. Also known as acesulfame-K. (Brand name: Sunett)
Acetohexamide – An oral medicine used to treat type 2 diabetes. It lowers blood glucose by helping the pancreas make more insulin and by helping the body better use the insulin it makes. Belongs to the class of medicines call sulfonylureas. Brand name: Dymelor)
Acetone – A chemical formed in the blood when the body uses fat instead of glucose (sugar) for energy. If acetone forms, it usually means that 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. Someone with a lot of acetone in the body can have breath that smells fruity and is called “acetone breath.” Also See Ketone bodies.
Acidosis – Too much acid in the body. For a person with diabetes, this can lead to diabetic ketoacidosis. Also See Diabetic Ketoacidosis.
Actos – See pioglitazone.
Acute – Happens for a limited period of time; abrupt onset; sharp, severe. Opposite of chronic.
Adhesive Capsulitis – A condition of the shoulder associated with diabetes that results in pain and loss of the ability to move the shoulder in all directions.
Adrenal Glands – Two organs that sit on top of the kidneys and make and release hormones such as adrenalin (epinephrine). This and other hormones, including insulin, control the body’s use of glucose (sugar).
Adult-Onset Diabetes – Former term for type II or noninsulin-dependent diabetes mellitus.
AGEs – Stands for advanced glycosylation endproducts. AGEs are produced in the body when glucose links with protein. They play a role in damaging blood vessels, which can lead to diabetes complications.
Albuminuria – A condition in which the urine has more than normal amounts of a protein called albumin. Albuminuria may be a sign of nephropathy (kidney disease).
Aldose Reductase Inhibitor – A class of drugs being studied as a way to prevent eye and nerve damage in people with diabetes. Aldose reductase is an enzyme that is normally present in the eye and in many other parts of the body. It helps change glucose (sugar) into a sugar alcohol called sorbitol. Too much sorbitol trapped in eye and nerve cells can damage these cells, leading to retinopathy and neuropathy. Drugs that prevent or slow (inhibit) the action of aldose reductase are being studied as a way to prevent or delay these complications of diabetes.
Alpha Cell – A type of cell in the pancreas (in areas called the islets of Langerhans). Alpha cells make and release a hormone called glucagon. The body sends a signal to the alpha cells to make glucagon when blood glucose falls too low. Then glucagon reaches the liver where it tells it to release glucose into the blood for energy.
Alpha-glucosidase Inhibitor – A class of oral medicine for type 2 diabetes that blocks enzymes that digest starches in food. The result is a slower and lower rise in blood glucose throughout the day, especially right after meals. (Generic names: acarbose and miglitol)
Amaryl – See glimepiride.
Amino Acid – The building blocks of proteins; the main material of the body’s cells. Insulin is made of 51 amino acids joined together.
Amylin – A hormone formed by beta cells in the pancreas. Amylin regulates the timing of glucose release into the bloodstream after eating by slowing the emptying of the stomach.
Amyotrophy – A type of neuropathy resulting in pain, weakness, and/or wasting in the muscles.
Anemia – A condition in which the number of red blood cells is less than normal, resulting in less oxygen being carried to the body’s cells.
Angiopathy – Disease of the blood vessels (arteries, veins, and capillaries) that occurs when someone has diabetes for a long time. There are two types of angiopathy: macroangiopathy and microangiopathy. In macroangiopathy, fat and blood clots build up in the large blood vessels, stick to the vessel walls, and block the flow of blood. In microangiopathy, the walls of the smaller blood vessels become so thick and weak that they bleed, leak protein, and slow the flow of blood through the body. Then the cells, for example, the ones in the center of the eye, do not get enough blood and may be damaged.
Anomalies – Birth defects; abnormalities.
Antibodies – Proteins that the body makes to protect itself from foreign substances. In diabetes, the body sometimes makes antibodies to work against pork or beef insulins because they are not exactly the same as human insulin or because they have impurities. The antibodies can keep the insulin from working well and may even cause the person with diabetes to have an allergic or bad reaction to the beef or pork insulins.
Anti-diabetic Agent – A substance that helps a person with diabetes control the level of glucose (sugar) in the blood so that the body works as it should. Also See Insulin; oral hypoglycemic agents.
Antigens – Substances that cause an immune response in the body. The body “sees” the antigens as harmful or foreign. To fight them, the body produces antibodies, which attack and try to eliminate the antigens.
ARB – An oral medicine that lowers blood pressure; ARB stands for angiotensin receptor blocker.
Arteriosclerosis – A group of diseases in which the walls of the arteries get thick and hard (hardening of the arteries). In one type of arteriosclerosis, fat builds up inside the walls and slows the blood flow. These diseases often occur in people who have had diabetes for a long time. Also See Atherosclerosis.
Artery – A large blood vessel that carries blood from the heart to other parts of the body. Arteries are thicker and have walls that are stronger and more elastic than the walls of veins. Also See Blood vessels.
Artificial Pancreas – A large machine used in hospitals that constantly measures glucose (sugar) in the blood and, in response, releases the right amount of insulin.
Aspart Insulin – A rapid-acting insulin. On average, aspart insulin starts to lower blood glucose within 10 to 20 minutes after injection. It has its strongest effect 1 to 3 hours after injection, but keeps working for 3 to 5 hours after injection.
Aspartame – A dietary sweetener with almost no calories and no nutritional value. (Brand names: Equal; NutraSweet)
Asymptomatic – No symptoms; no clear sign of disease present.
Atherosclerosis – Clogging, narrowing, and hardening of the body’s large arteries and medium-sized blood vessels. Atherosclerosis can lead to stroke, heart attack, eye problems, and kidney problems. One of many diseases in which fat builds up in the large- and medium-sized arteries. This buildup of fat may slow down or stop blood flow. This disease can happen to people who have had diabetes for a long time.
Autoimmune Disease – Disorder of the body’s immune system in which the immune system mistakenly attacks and destroys body tissue that it believes to be foreign. Insulin-dependent diabetes is an autoimmune disease because the immune system attacks and destroys the insulin-producing beta cells.
Autonomic Neuropathy – A disease of the nerves affecting mostly the internal organs such as the bladder muscles, the cardiovascular system, the digestive tract, and the genital organs. These nerves are not under a person’s conscious control and function automatically. Also called visceral neuropathy. Also See Neuropathy.
Avandia – See rosiglitazone.
Background Retinopathy – Early stage of diabetic retinopathy; usually does not impair vision. Also called “nonproliferative retinopathy.”
Basal Rate – Refers to a continuous supply of low levels of insulin, as in insulin pump therapy.
Beta Cell – A type of cell in the pancreas in areas called the islets of Langerhans. Beta cells make and release insulin, a hormone that controls the level of glucose (sugar) in the blood.
Beta Cell Transplantation – See: Islet cell transplantation.
Biosynthetic Human Insulin – A man-made insulin that is very much like human insulin.
Biphasic Insulin – A type of insulin that is a mixture of intermediate- and fast-acting insulin.
Blood Glucose – The main sugar that the body makes from the three elements of food–proteins, fats, and carbohydrates– but mostly from carbohydrates. Glucose is the major source of energy for living cells and is carried to each cell through the bloodstream. However, the cells cannot use glucose without the help of insulin.
Blood Glucose Meter – A machine that helps test how much glucose (sugar) is in the blood. A fresh sample of blood is inserted in a machine, which then calculates the correct level of glucose in the blood sample and shows the result in a digital display.
Blood Glucose Monitoring – A way of testing how much glucose (sugar) is in the blood. A drop of blood, usually taken from the fingertip, is placed on the end of a specially coated strip, called a testing strip. The strip has a chemical on it that makes it change color according to how much glucose is in the blood. A person can tell if the level of glucose is low, high, or normal in one of two ways. The first is by comparing the color on the end of the strip to a color chart that is printed on the side of the test strip container. The second is by inserting the strip into a small machine, called a meter, which “reads” the strip and shows the level of blood glucose in a digital window display. Note: Blood testing is more accurate than urine testing in monitoring blood glucose levels because it shows what the current level of glucose is, rather than what the level was an hour or so previously.
Blood Pressure – The force of the blood on the walls of the arteries. Two levels of blood pressure are measured – the higher, or systolic, pressure, which occurs each time the heart pushes blood into the vessels, and the lower, or diastolic, pressure, which occurs when the heart rests. In a blood pressure reading of 120/80, for example, 120 is the systolic pressure and 80 is the diastolic pressure. A reading of 120/80 is said to be the normal range. Blood pressure that is too high can cause health problems such as heart attacks and strokes.
Blood-Sampling Devices – A small instrument for pricking the skin with a fine needle to obtain a sample of blood to test for glucose (sugar). See als Blood glucose monitoring.
Blood Sugar – See: Blood glucose
Blood Urea Nitrogen (BUN) – A waste product of the kidneys. Increased levels of BUN in the blood may indicate early kidney damage.
Blood Vessels – Tubes that act like a system of roads or canals to carry blood to and from all parts of the body. The three main types of blood vessels are arteries, veins, and capillaries. The heart pumps blood through these vessels so that the blood can carry with it oxygen and nutrients that the cells need or take away waste that the cells do not need.
Bolus – An extra boost of insulin given to cover expected rise in blood glucose (sugar) such as the rise that occurs after eating.
Borderline Diabetes – A term no longer used. See: Impaired glucose tolerence.
Brittle Diabetes – A term used when a person’s blood glucose (sugar) level often swings quickly from high to low and from low to high. Also called labile and unstable diabetes.
Bronze Diabetes – A genetic disease of the liver in which the body takes too much iron from food. Also called “hemocromatosis.”
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C.D.E. (Certified Diabetes Educator) – A health care professional who is qualified by the American Association of Diabetes Educators to teach people with diabetes how to manage their condition. The health care team for diabetes should include a diabetes educator, preferably a C.D.E.
C-Peptide – A substance that the pancreas releases into the bloodstream in equal amounts to insulin. A test of C-peptide levels will show how much insulin the body is making.
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. See als Meal plan; exchange lists.
Capillary – The smallest part of the body’s blood vessels. Capillaries have walls so thin that oxygen and glucose can pass through them and enter the cells, and waste products such as carbon dioxide can pass back into the blood to be carried away and taken out of the body. Sometimes people who have diabetes for a long time find that their capillaries become weak, especially those in the kidney and the retina of the eye. See als Blood vessels.
Capsaicin – A topical ointment made from chili peppers used to relieve the pain of peripheral neuropathy.
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). The body also uses carbohydrates to make a substance called glycogen that is stored in the liver and muscles for future use. If the body does not have enough insulin or cannot use the insulin it has, then the body will not be able to use carbohydrates for energy the way it should. This condition is called diabetes. Also See Fats; protein.
Cardiologist – A doctor who sees and takes care of people with heart disease; a heart specialist.
Cardiovascular – Relating to the heart and blood vessels (arteries, veins, and capillaries); the circulatory system.
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome – A nerve disorder affecting the hand that may occur in people with diabetes; caused by a pinched nerve.
Cataract – Clouding of the lens of the eye. In people with diabetes, this condition is sometimes referred to as “sugar cataract.”
Cerebrovascular Disease – Damage to the blood vessels in the brain, resulting in stroke. The blood vessels become blocked because of fat deposits or they become thick and hard, blocking the flow of blood to the brain. Sometimes the blood vessels may burst, resulting in a hemorrhagic stroke. People with diabetes are at higher risk of cerebrovascular disease. Also See Macrovascular disease; stroke.
Charcot Foot – A foot complication associated with diabetic neuropathy that results in destruction of joints and soft tissue. Also called “Charcot’s joint” and “neuropathic arthropathy.”
Chemical Diabetes – A term no longer used. See: Impaired glucose tolerance.
Chlorpropamide – A pill taken to lower the level of glucose (sugar) in the blood. Only some people with noninsulin-dependent diabetes take these pills. Also See Oral hypoglycemic agents.
Chronic – Present over a long period of time. Diabetes is an example of chronic disease.
Circulation – The flow of blood through the heart and blood vessels of the body.
Clinical Trial – A scientifically controlled study carried out in people, usually to test the effectiveness of a new treatment.
Coma – A sleep-like state; not conscious. May be due to a high or low level of glucose (sugar) in the blood. Also See Diabetic coma.
Comatose – In a coma; not conscious.
Complications of Diabetes – Harmful effects that may happen when a person has diabetes. Some effects, such as hypoglycemia, can happen any time. Others develop when a person has diabetes for a long time. These include damage to the retina of the eye (retinopathy), the blood vessels (angiopathy), the nervous system (neuropathy), and the kidneys (nephropathy). Studies show that keeping blood glucose levels as close to the normal, nondiabetic range as possible may help prevent, slow, or delay harmful effects to the eyes, kidneys, and nerves. Click here to read more about complications
Congenital Defects – Problems or conditions that are present at birth.
Congestive Heart Failure – Heart failure caused by loss of pumping power by the by the heart, resulting in fluids collecting in the body. Congestive heart failure often develops gradually over several years, although it also can happen suddenly. It can be treated by drugs and in some cases, by surgery.
Contradiction – A condition that makes a treatment not helpful or even harmful.
Controlled Disease – Taking care of oneself so that a disease has less of an effect on the body. People with diabetes can “control” the disease by staying on their diets, by exercising, by taking medicine if it is needed, and by monitoring their blood glucose. This care will help keep the glucose (sugar) level in the blood from becoming either too high or too low.
Conventional Therapy – A system of diabetes management which should be practiced by most people with diabetes; the system consists of one or two insulin injections each day, daily self-monitoring of blood glucose, and a standard program of nutrition and exercise. The main objective in this form of treatment is to avoid very high and very low blood glucose (sugar). Also called: “Standard Therapy.”
Coronary Disease – Damage to the heart. Not enough blood flows through the vessels because they are blocked with fat or have become thick and hard; this harms the muscles of the heart. People with diabetes are at a higher risk of coronary disease.
Creatinine – A chemical found in the blood and passed in the urine. A test of the amount of creatinine in blood or in blood and urine shows if the kidney is working right or if it is diseased. This is called the creatinine clearance test.
CSII – Continuous Subcutaneous Insulin Infusion See: Insulin pump.
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Dawn Phenomenon – A sudden rise in blood glucose levels in the early morning hours. This condition sometimes occurs in people with insulin-dependent diabetes and (rarely) in people with noninsulin-dependent diabetes. Unlike the Somogyi effect, it is not a result of an insulin reaction. People who have high levels of blood glucose in the mornings before eating may need to monitor their blood glucose during the night. If blood glucose levels are rising, adjustments in evening snacks or insulin dosages may be recommended. Also See Somogyi effect.
Dehydration – Great loss of body water. A very high level of glucose (sugar) in the urine causes loss of a great deal of water, and the person becomes very thirsty.
Delta Cell – A type of cell in the pancreas in areas called islets of Langerhans. Delta cells make somatostatin, a hormone that is believed to control how the beta cells make and release insulin and how the alpha cells make and release glucagon.
Desensitization – A method to reduce or stop a response such as an allergic reaction to something. For instance, if a person with diabetes has a bad reaction to taking a full dose of beef insulin, the doctor gives the person a very small amount of the insulin at first. Over a period of time, larger doses are given until the person is taking the full dose. This is one way to help the body get used to the full dose and to avoid having the allergic reaction.
Dextrose – A simple sugar found in the blood. It is the body’s main source of energy. Also called glucose. Also See Blood glucose.
Diabetes Mellitus – A disease that occurs when the body is not able to use sugar as it should. The body needs sugar for growth and energy for daily activities. It gets sugar when it changes food into glucose (a form of sugar). A hormone called insulin is needed for the glucose to be taken up and used by the body. Diabetes occurs when the body cannot make use of the glucose in the blood for energy because either the pancreas is not able to make enough insulin or the insulin that is available is not effective. The beta cells in areas of the pancreas called the islets of Langerhans usually make insulin. There are two main types of diabetes mellitus: insulin-dependent (Type I) and noninsulin-dependent (Type II). In insulin-dependent diabetes (IDDM), the pancreas makes little or no insulin because the insulin-producing beta cells have been destroyed. This type usually appears suddenly and most commonly in younger people under age 30. Treatment consists of daily insulin injections or use of an insulin pump, a planned diet and regular exercise, and daily self-monitoring of blood glucose.
In non-insulin dependent diabetes (NIDDM), the pancreas makes some insulin, sometimes too much. The insulin, however, is not effective (see Insulin Resistance). NIDDM is controlled by diet and exercise and daily monitoring of glucose levels. Sometimes oral drugs that lower blood glucose levels or insulin injections are needed. This type of diabetes usually develops gradually, most often in people over 40 years of age. NIDDM accounts for 90 to 95 percent of diabetes.
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In insulin-dependent diabetes, if the level of insulin is too low for a long period of time, the body begins to break down its stores of fat for energy. This causes the body to release acids (ketones) into the blood. The result is called ketoacidosis, a severe condition that may put a person into a coma if not treated right away.
The causes of diabetes are not known. Scientists think that insulin-dependent diabetes may be more than one disease and may have many causes. They are looking at hereditary (whether or not the person has parents or other family members with the disease) and at factors both inside and outside the body, including viruses.
Noninsulin-dependent diabetes appears to be closely associated with obesity and with the body resisting the action of insulin.
Diabetic Amyotrophy – A disease of the nerves leading to the muscles. This condition affects only one side of the body and occurs most often in older men with mild diabetes. Also See Neuropathy.
Diabetic Angiopathy – See: Angiopathy.
Diabetic Coma – A severe emergency in which a person is not conscious because the blood glucose (sugar) is too low or too high. If the glucose level is too low, the person has hypoglycemia; if the level is too high, the person has hyperglycemia and may develop ketoacidosis. See als Hyperglycemia; hypoglycemia; diabetic ketoacidosis.
Diabetic Ketoacidosis (DKA) – Severe, out-of-control diabetes (high blood sugar) that needs emergency treatment. DKA happens when blood sugar levels get too high. This may happen because of illness, taking too little insulin, or getting too little exercise. The body starts using stored fat for energy, and ketone bodies (acids) build up in the blood.
Ketoacidosis starts slowly and builds up. The signs include nausea and vomiting, which can lead to loss of water from the body, stomach pain, and deep and rapid breathing. Other signs are a flushed face, dry skin and mouth, a fruity breath odor, a rapid and weak pulse, and low blood pressure. If the person is not given fluids and insulin right away, ketoacidosis can lead to coma and even death.
Diabetic Myelopathy – Spinal cord damage found in some people with diabetes.
Diabetic Nephropathy – See: Nephropathy
Diabetic Neuropathy – See: Neuropathy
Diabetic Osteopathy – Loss of foot bone as viewed by x-ray; usually temporary. Also called “disappearing bone disease.”
Diabetic Retinopathy – A disease of the small blood vessels of the retina of the eye. When retinopathy first starts, the tiny blood vessels in the retina become swollen, and they leak a little fluid into the center of the retina. The person’s sight may be blurred. This condition is called background retinopathy. About 80 percent of people with background retinopathy never have serious vision problems, and the disease never goes beyond this first stage.
However, if retinopathy progresses, the harm to sight can be more serious. Many new, tiny blood vessels grow out and across the eye. This is called neovascularization. The vessels may break and bleed into the clear gel that fills the center of the eye, blocking vision. Scar tissue may also form near the retina, pulling it away from the back of the eye. This stage is called proliferative retinopathy, and it can lead to impaired vision and even blindness. Also See Photocoagulation or vitrectomy for treatments.
Diabetogenic – Causing diabetes; some drugs cause blood glucose (sugar) to rise, resulting in diabetes.
Diabetologist – A doctor who sees and treats people with diabetes mellitus. Also See Endocrinologist.
Diagnosis – The term used when a doctor finds that a person has a certain medical problem or disease.
Dialysis – A method for removing waste such as urea from the blood when the kidneys can no longer do the job. The two types of dialysis are: hemodialysis and peritoneal dialysis. In hemodialysis, the patient’s blood is passed through a tube into a machine that filters out waste products. The cleansed blood is then returned to the body.
In peritoneal dialysis, a special solution is run through a tube into the peritoneum, a thin tissue that lines the cavity of the abdomen. The body’s waste products are removed through the tube. There are three types of peritoneal dialysis. Continuous ambulatory peritoneal dialysis (CAPD), the most common type, needs no machine and can be done at home. Continuous cyclic peritoneal dialysis (CCPD) uses a machine and is usually performed at night when the person is sleeping. Intermittent peritoneal dialysis (IPD) uses the same type of machine as CCPD, but is usually done in the hospital because treatment takes longer. Hemodialysis and peritoneal dialysis may be used to treat people with diabetes who have kidney failure.
Diet Plan – See: Meal plan.
Dietitian – An expert in nutrition who helps people with special health needs plan the kinds and amounts of foods to eat. A registered dietitian (R.D.) has special qualifications. The health care team for diabetes should include a dietitian, preferably an R.D.
Dilated Pupil Examination – A necessary part of an examination for diabetic eye disease. Special drops are used to enlarge the pupils, enabling the doctor to view the back of the eye for damage.
Distal Sensory Neuropathy – See: Peripheral neuropathy.
Diuretic – A drug that increases the flow of urine to rid the body of extra fluid.
DKA – See: Diabetic ketoacidosis.
DNA (Deoxyribonucleic Acid) – A chemical substance in plant and animal cells that tells the cells what to do and when to do it. DNA is the information about what each person inherits from his or her parents.
Dupuytren’s Contracture – A condition that causes the fingers to curve inward and may also affect the palm. The condition is more common in people with diabetes and may precede diabetes.
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Edema – A swelling or puffiness of some part of the body such as the ankles. Water or other body fluids collect in the cells and cause swelling.
Electromyography (EMG) – Test used to diagnose neuropathy and check for nerve damage.
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.
Endocrine Glands – Glands that release hormones into the bloodstream. They affect how the body uses food (metabolism). They also influence other body functions. One endocrine gland is the pancreas. It releases insulin so the body can use sugar for energy.
Endocrinologist – A doctor who treats people who have problems with their endocrine glands. Diabetes is an endocrine disorder.
Endogenous – Grown or made inside the body. Insulin made by a person’s own pancreas is endogenous insulin. Insulin that is made from beef or pork pancreas or derived from bacteria is exogenous because it comes from outside the body and must be injected.
End-Stage Renal Disease (ESRD) – The final phase of kidney disease; treated by dialysis or kidney transplantation. Also See Dialysis; nephropathy.
Enzymes – A special type of protein. Enzymes help the body’s chemistry work better and more quickly. Each enzyme usually has its own chemical job to do such as helping to change starch into glucose (sugar).
Epidemiology – The study of a disease that deals with how many people have it, where they are, how many new cases develop, and how to control the disease.
Epinephrine – One of the secretions of the adrenal glands. It helps the liver release glucose (sugar) and limit the release of insulin. It also makes the heart beat faster and can raise blood pressure; also called adrenalin.
Etiology – The study of what causes a disease; also the cause or causes of a certain disease.
Euglycemia – A normal level of glucose (sugar) in the blood.
Exchange Lists – A grouping of foods by type to help people on special diets stay on the diet. Each group lists food in serving sizes. 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 in six groups: (1) starch / bread, (2) meat, (3) vegetables, (4) fruit, (5) milk, and (6) fats. Within a food group, each serving has about the same amount of carbohydrate, protein, fat, and calories.
Exogenous – Grown or made outside the body; for instance, insulin made from pork or beef pancreas is exogenous insulin for people.
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Fasting Blood Glucose Test – A method for finding out how much glucose (sugar) is in the blood. The test can show if a person has diabetes. A blood sample is taken in a lab or a doctor’s office. The test is usually done in the morning before the person has eaten. The normal, non-diabetic range for blood glucose is from 80 to 120 mg/dl (milligrams per deciliter), depending on the type of blood being tested. If the level is over 126 mg/dl, it usually means the person has diabetes (except for newborns and some pregnant women).
Fats – One of the three main classes of foods and a source of energy in the body. Fats help the body use some vitamins and keep the skin healthy. They also serve as stores for the body. In food, there are two main types of fats; saturated and unsaturated.
Saturated fats are solid at room temperature and come chiefly from animal food products. Some examples are butter, lard, meat fat, solid shortening, palm oil, and coconut oil. These fats tend to raise the level of cholesterol, a fat-like substance in the blood.
Unsaturated fats, which include monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats, are liquid at room temperature and come from plant oils such as olive, peanut, corn, cottonseed, sunflower, safflower, and soybean. These fats tend to lower the level of cholesterol in the blood. Also See Carbohydrate; protein.
Fatty Acids are a basic unit of fats. When insulin levels are too low or there is not enough glucose (sugar) to use for energy, the body burns fatty acids for energy. The body then makes ketone bodies, waste products that cause the acid level in the blood to become too high. This in turn may lead to ketoacidosis, a serious problem. See als Diabetic ketoacidosis.
Fiber – A substance found in food that comes from plants. Fiber helps in the digestive process and is thought to lower cholesterol and help control blood glucose (sugar). The two types of fiber in food are soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber, found in beans, fruits, and oat products, dissolves in water and is thought to help lower blood fats and blood glucose (sugar). Insoluble fiber, found in whole-grain products and vegetables, passes directly through the digestive system, helping to rid the body of waste products.
Fluorescein Angiography – A method of taking a picture of the flow of blood in the vessels of the eye by tracing the progress of an injected dye.
Food Exchange – See: Exchange lists.
Foot Care – Taking special steps to avoid foot problems such as sores, cuts, bunions, and calluses. Good care includes daily examination of the feet, toes, and toenails and choosing shoes and socks or stockings that fit well. People with diabetes have to take special care of their feet because nerve damage and reduced blood flow sometimes mean they will have less feeling in their feet than normal. They may not notice cuts and other problems as soon as they should.
Fractional Urine – Urine that a person collects for a certain period of time during 24 hours; usually from breakfast to lunch, from lunch to supper, from supper to bedtime, and from bedtime to rising. Also called “block urine.”
Fructose – A type of sugar found in many fruits and vegetables and in honey. Fructose is used to sweeten some diet foods. It is considered a nutritive sweetener because it has calories.
Fundus of the Eye – The back or deep part of the eye, including the retina.
Funduscopy – A test to look at the back area of the eye to see if there is any damage to the vessels that bring blood to the retina. The doctor uses a device called an ophthalmoscope to check the eye.
Galactose – A type of sugar found in milk products and sugar beets. It is also made by the body. It is considered a nutritive sweetener because it has calories.
Gangrene – The death of body tissue. It is most often caused by loss of blood flow, 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 in a normal way, resulting in vomiting, nausea, or bloating and interfering with diabetes management. See als Autonomic neuropathy.
Gene – A basic unit of heredity. Genes are made of DNA, a substance that tells the cells what to do and when to do it. The information in the genes is passed from parent to child—for example, a gene might tell some cells to make the hair red or the eyes brown.
Genetic – Relating to genes. See als Gene; heredity.
Gestation – The length of pregnancy.
Gestational Diabetes Mellitus (GDM) – A type of diabetes mellitus that can occur when a woman is pregnant. In the second half of pregnancy, the woman may have glucose (sugar) in the blood at a higher level than normal. However, when the pregnancy ends, the blood glucose levels return to normal in about 95 percent of all cases.
Gingivitis – An inflammation of the gums that if left untreated may lead to periodontal disease, a serious gum disorder. Signs of gingivitis are inflamed and bleeding gums. Also See Periodontal disease.
Gland – A group of special cells that make substances so other parts of the body can work. For example, the pancreas is a gland that releases insulin so that other body cells can use glucose (sugar) for energy. See als Endocrine glands.
Glaucoma – An eye disease associated with increased pressure within the eye. Glaucoma can damage the optic nerve and cause impaired vision and blindness.
Glomerular Filtration Rate – Measure of the kidney’s ability to filter and remove waste products.
Glomeruli – Network of tiny blood vessels in the kidneys where the blood is filtered and waste products are removed.
Glucagon – A hormone that raises the level of glucose (sugar) in the blood. The alpha cells of the pancreas (in areas called the islets of Langerhans) make glucagon when the body needs to put more sugar into the blood.
An injectable form of glucagon, which can be bought in a drug store, is sometimes used to treat insulin shock. The glucagon is injected and quickly raises blood glucose levels. Also See Alpha cell.
Glucose – A simple sugar found in the blood. It is the body’s main source of energy; also known as dextrose. Also See Blood glucose.
Glucose Tolerance Test – A test to see if a person has diabetes. The test is given in a lab or doctor’s office in the morning before the person has eaten. A first sample of the blood is taken from the person. Then the person drinks a liquid that has glucose (sugar) in it. After one hour, a second blood sample is drawn, and, after another hour, a third sample is taken. The object is to see how well the body deals with the glucose in the blood over time.
Glycemic Response – The effect of different foods on blood glucose (sugar) levels over a period of time. Researchers have discovered that some kinds of foods may raise blood glucose levels more quickly than other foods containing the same amount of carbohydrates.
Glycogen – A substance made up of sugars. It is stored in the liver and muscles and releases glucose (sugar) into the blood when needed by cells. Glycogen is the chief source of stored fuel in the body.
Glycogenesis (or glucogenesis) – The process by which glycogen is formed into glucose. Also See Glycogen.
Glycosuria – Having glucose (sugar) in the urine.
Glycosylated Hemoglobin Test – A blood test that measures a person’s blood glucose (sugar) level for the 2- to 3-month period before the test. See: Hemoglobin A1C.
Gram – A unit of weight in the metric system. There are 28 grams in 1 ounce. In some diet plans for people with diabetes, the suggested amounts of food are given in grams.
HCF Diet – A high-carbohydrate, high-fiber diet.
Hemocromatosis – See: Bronze diabetes.
Hemodialysis – A mechanical method of cleaning the blood for people who have kidney disease. Also See Dialysis.
Hemoglobin A1C (HbA1C) – The substance of red blood cells that carries oxygen to the cells and sometimes joins with glucose (sugar). Because the glucose stays attached for the life of the cell (about 4 months), a test to measure hemoglobin A1C shows what the person’s average blood glucose level was for that period of time.
Heredity – The passing of a trait such as color of the eyes from parent to child. A person “inherits” these traits through the genes.
High Blood Pressure – When the blood flows through the vessels at a greater than normal force. High blood pressure strains the heart; harms the arteries; and increases the risk of heart attack, stroke, and kidney problems. Also called hypertension.
Hives (Urticaria) – A skin reaction that results in slightly elevated patches that are redder or paler than the surrounding skin and often are accompanied by itching.
HLA Antigens – Proteins on the outer part of the cell that help th body fight illness. These proteins vary from person to person. Scientists think that people with certain types of HLA antigens are more likely to develop insulin-dependent diabetes.
Home Blood Glucose Monitoring – A way a person can test how much glucose (sugar) is in the blood. Also called self-monitoring of blood glucose. Also See Blood glucose monitoring.
Homeostatis – When the body is working as it should because all of its systems are in balance.
Hormone – A chemical released by special cells to tell other cells what to do. For instance, insulin is a hormone made by the beta cells in the pancreas. When released, insulin tells other cells to use glucose (sugar) for energy.
Human Insulin – Man-made insulins that are similar to insulin produced by your own body. Human insulin has been available since 1982.
Hyperglycemia – Too high a level of glucose (sugar) in the blood; a sign that diabetes is out of control. Many things can cause hyperglycemia. It occurs when the body does not have enough insulin or cannot use the insulin it does have to turn glucose into energy. Signs of hyperglycemia are a great thirst, a dry mouth, and a need to urinate often. For people with insulin-dependent diabetes, hyperglycemia may lead to diabetic ketoacidosis.
Hyperinsulinism – Too high a level of insulin in the blood. This term most often refers to a condition in which the body produces too much insulin. Researchers believe that this condition may play a role in the development of noninsulin-dependent diabetes and in hypertension. Also See Syndrome X.
Hyperlipemia – See: Hyperlipidemia.
Hyperlipidemia – Too high a level of fats (lipids) in the blood. Also See Syndrome X.
Hyperosmolar Coma – A coma (loss of consciousness) related to high levels of glucose (sugar) in the blood and requiring emergency treatment. A person with this condition is usually older and weak from loss of body fluids and weight. The person may or may not have a previous history of diabetes. Ketones (acids) are not present in the urine.
Hypertension – Blood pressure that is above the normal range. See als High blood pressure.
Hypoglycemia – Too low a level of glucose (sugar) in the blood. This occurs when a person with diabetes has injected too much insulin, eaten too little food, or has exercised without extra food. A person with hypoglycemia may feel nervous, shaky, weak, or sweaty, and have a headache, blurred vision, and hunger. Taking small amounts of sugar, sweet juice, or food with sugar will usually help the person feel better within 10-15 minutes. Also See Insulin shock.
Hypotension – Low blood pressure or a sudden drop in blood pressure. A person rising quickly from a sitting or reclining position may have a sudden fall in blood pressure, causing dizziness or fainting.
IDDM – See: Insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus.
IGT – See: Impaired glucose tolerence.
Immuno-suppressive Drugs – Drugs that block the body’s ability to fight infection or foreign substances that enter the body. A person receiving a kidney or pancreas transplant is given these drugs to stop the body from rejecting the new organ or tissue. Cyclosporin is a commonly used immuno-suppressive drug.
Impaired Glucose Tolerance (IGT) – Blood glucose (sugar) levels higher than normal but not high enough to be called diabetes. People with IGT may or may not develop diabetes. Other names (no longer used) for IGT are “borderline,” “subclinical,” “chemical,” or “latent” diabetes.
Implantable Insulin Pump – A small pump placed inside of the body that delivers insulin in response to commands from a hand-held device called a programmer.
Impotence – The loss of a man’s ability to have an erect penis and to emit semen. Some men may become impotent after having diabetes for a long time because the nerves or blood vessels have become damaged. Sometimes the problem has nothing to do with diabetes and may be treated with counseling.
Incidence – How often a disease occurs; the number of new cases of a disease among a certain group of people for a certain period of time.
Ingestion – Taking food, water, or medicine into the body by mouth.
Injection – Putting liquid into the body with a needle and syringe. A person with diabetes injects insulin by putting the needle into tissue under the skin (called subcutaneous). Other ways of giving medicine or nourishment by injection are to put the needle into a vein (intravenous) or into a muscle (intramuscular).
Injection Sights – Places on the body where people can inject insulin most easily. These are:
- The outer area of the upper arm.
- Just above and below the waist, except the area right around the navel (a 2-inch circle).
- The upper area of the buttock, just behind the hip bone.
- The front of the thigh, midway to the outer side, 4 inches below the top of the thigh to 4 inches above the knee. (these areas can vary with the size of the person).
Injection Site Rotation – Changing the places on the body where a person injects insulin. Changing the injection site keeps lumps or small dents from forming in the skin. These lumps or dents are called lipodystrophies. However, people should try to use the same body area for injections that are given at the same time each day–for example, always using the stomach for the morning injection or an arm for the evening injection. Using the same body area for these routine injections lessens the possibility of changes in the timing and action of insulin.
Insulin – A hormone that helps the body use glucose (sugar) for energy. The beta cells of the pancreas (in areas called the islets of Langerhans) make the insulin. When the body cannot make enough insulin on its own, a person with diabetes must inject insulin made from other sources, i.e., beef, pork, human insulin (recombinant DNA origin), or human insulin (pork-derived, semisynthetic).
Insulin Allergy – When a person’s body has an allergic or bad reaction to taking insulin made from pork or beef or from bacteria, or because the insulin is not exactly the same as human insulin or because it has impurities.
The allergy can be one of two forms. Sometimes an area of skin becomes red and itchy around the place where the insulin is injected. This is called a local allergy.
In another form, a person’s whole body can have a bad reaction. This is called a systemic allergy. The person can have hives or red patches all over the body or may feel changes in the heart rate and in the rate of breathing. A doctor may treat this allergy by prescribing purified insulins or by desensitization. Also See Desensitization.
Insulin Antagonist – Something that opposes or fights the action of insulin. Insulin lowers the level of glucose (sugar) in the blood, whereas glucagon raises it; therefore, glucagon is an antagonist of insulin.
Insulin Binding – When insulin attaches itself to something else. This can occur in two ways. First, when a cell needs energy, insulin can bind with the outer part of the cell. The cell then can bring glucose (sugar) inside and use it for energy. With the help of insulin, the cell can do its work very well and very quickly. But sometimes the body acts against itself. In this second case, the insulin binds with the proteins that are supposed to protect the body from outside substances (antibodies). If the insulin is an injected form of insulin and not made by the body, the body sees the insulin as an outside or “foreign” substance. When the injected insulin binds with the antibodies, it does not work as well as when it binds directly to the cell.
Insulin-Dependent Diabetes Mellitus (IDDM) – A chronic condition in which the pancreas makes little or no insulin because the beta cells have been destroyed. The body is then not able to use the glucose (sugar) for energy. IDDM usually comes on abruptly, although the damage to the beta cells may begin much earlier. The signs of IDDM are a great thirst, hunger, a need to urinate often, and loss of weight (see: Warning Signs of Diabetes – click here). To treat the disease, the person must inject insulin, follow a diet plan, exercise daily, and test blood glucose several times a day. IDDM usually occurs in children and adults who are under the age 30. This type of diabetes used to be known as “juvenile diabetes,” “juvenile-onset diabetes,” and “ketosis-prone diabetes.” It is also called Type I diabetes mellitus.
Insulin-Induced Atrophy – Small dents that form on the skin when a person keeps injecting a needle in the same spot. They are harmless. Also See Lipoatrophy; injection site rotation.
Insulin-Induced Hypertrophy – Small lumps that form under the skin when a person keeps injecting a needle in the same spot. Also See Lipodystrophy; injection site rotation.
Insulin Pen – An insulin injection device the size of a pen that includes a needle and holds a vial of insulin. It can be used instead of syringes for giving insulin injections.
Insulin Pump – A device that delivers a continuous supply of insulin into the body. The insulin flows from the pump through a plastic tube that is connected to a needle inserted into the body and taped in place. Insulin is delivered at two rates; a low, steady rate (called the basal rate) for continuous day-long coverage, and extra boosts of insulin (called bolus doses) to cover meals or when extra insulin is needed. The pump runs on batteries and can be worn clipped to a belt or carried in a pocket. It is used by people with insulin-dependent diabetes.
Insulin Reaction – Too low a level of glucose (sugar) in the blood; also called hypoglycemia. This occurs when a person with diabetes has injected too much insulin, eaten too little food, or exercised without extra food. The person may feel hungry, nauseated, weak, nervous, shaky, confused and sweaty. Taking small amounts of sugar, sweet juice, or food with sugar will usually help the person feel better within 10-15 minutes. Also See Hypoglycemia; insulin shock.
Insulin Receptors – Areas on the outer part of a cell that allow the cell to join or bind with insulin that is in the blood. When the cell and insulin bind together, the cell can take glucose (sugar) from the blood and use it for energy.
Insulin Resistance – Many people with noninsulin-dependent diabetes produce enough insulin, but their bodies do not respond to the action of insulin. This may happen because the person is overweight and has too many fat cells, which do not respond well to insulin. Also, as people age, their body cells lose some of the ability to respond to insulin. Insulin resistance is also linked to high blood pressure and high levels of fat in the blood.
Another kind of insulin resistance may happen in some people who take insulin injections. They may have to take very high doses of insulin every day (200 units or more) to bring their blood glucose (sugar) down to the normal range. This is also called “insulin insensitivity.”
Insulin Shock – A severe condition that occurs when the level of blood glucose (sugar) drops quickly. The signs are shaking, sweating, dizziness, double vision, convulsions, and collapse. Insulin shock may occur when an insulin reaction is not treated quickly enough. Also See Hypoglycemia; insulin reaction.
Insulinoma – A tumor of the beta cells in areas of the pancreas called the islets of Langerhans. Although not usually cancerous, such tumors may cause the body to make extra insulin and may lead to a blood glucose (sugar) level that is too low.
Intensive Intermittent Claudication – Pain in the muscles of the leg that occurs off and on, usually while walking or exercising, and results in lameness (claudication). The pain results from a narrowing of the blood vessels feeding the muscle. Drugs are available to treat this condition.
Intensive Management – A form of treatment for insulin-dependent diabetes in which the main objective is to keep blood glucose (sugar) levels as close to the normal range as possible. The treatment consists of three or more insulin injections a day or use of an insulin pump; four or more blood glucose tests a day; adjustment of insulin, food intake, and activity levels based on blood glucose test results; dietary counseling; and management by a diabetes team. Also See Diabetes Control and Complications Trial; team management.
Intramuscular Injection – Putting a fluid into a muscle with a needle and syringe.
Intravenous Injection – Putting a fluid into a vein with a needle and syringe.
Islet Cell Transplantation – Moving the beta (islet) cells from a donor pancreas and putting them into a person whose pancreas has stopped producing insulin. The beta cells make the insulin that the body needs to use glucose (sugar) for energy. Although transplanting islet cells may one day help people with diabetes, the procedure is still in the research stage.
Islets of Langerhans – Special groups of cells in the pancreas. They make and secrete hormones that help the body break down and use food. Named after Paul Langerhans, the German scientist who discovered them in 1869, these cells sit in clusters in the pancreas. There are five types of cells in an islet: beta cells, which make insulin; alpha cells, which make glucagon; delta cells, which make somatostaton; and PP cells and D1 cells, about which little is known.
Jet Injector – A device that uses high pressure to propel insulin through the skin and into the body.
Juvenile Onset Diabetes – Former term for insulin-dependent or Type I diabetes. See: Insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus.
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Ketoacidosis – See: Diabetic ketoacidosis.
Ketone Bodies – Chemicals that the body makes when there is not enough insulin in the blood and it must break down fat for its energy. Ketone bodies can poison and even kill body cells. When the body does not have the help of insulin, the ketones build up in the blood and then “spill” over into the urine so that the body can get rid of them. The body can also rid itself of one type of ketone, called acetone, through the lungs. This gives the breath a fruity odor. Ketones that build up in the body for a long time lead to serious illness and coma. Also See Diabetic ketoacidosis.
Ketonuria – Having ketone bodies in the urine; a warning sign of diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA).
Ketosis – A condition of having ketone bodies build up in body tissues and fluids. The signs of ketosis are nausea, vomiting, and stomach pain. Ketosis can lead to ketoacidosis.
Kidney Disease – Any one of several chronic conditions that are caused by damage to the cells of the kidney. People who have had diabetes for a long time may have kidney damage. Also called nephropathy.
Kidneys -Two organs in the lower back that clean waste and poisons from the blood. The kidneys are shaped like two large beans, and they act as the body’s filter. They also control the level of some chemicals in the blood such as hydrogen, sodium, potassium, and phosphate.
Kidney Threshold – The point at which the blood is holding too much of a substance such as glucose (sugar) and the kidneys “spill” the excess sugar into the urine. See als Renal threshold.
Kussmaul Breathing – The rapid, deep, and labored breathing of people who have ketoacidosis or who are in a diabetic coma. Kussmaul breathing is named for Adolph Kussmaul, the 19th century German doctor who first noted it. Also called “air hunger.”
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Labile Diabetes – A term used to indicate when a person’s blood glucose (sugar) level often swings quickly from high to low and from low to high. Also called brittle diabetes.
Lactic Acidosis – The buildup of lactic acid in the body. The cells make lactic acid when they use glucose (sugar) for energy. If too much lactic acid stays in the body, the balance tips and the person begins to feel ill. The signs of lactic acidosis are deep and rapid breathing, vomiting, and abdominal pain. Lactic acidosis may be caused by diabetic ketoacidosis or liver or kidney disease.
Lactose – A type of sugar found in milk and milk products (cheese, better, etc.). It is considered a nutritive sweetener because it has calories.
Lancet – A fine, sharp-pointed blade or needle for pricking the skin.
Laser Treatment – Using a special strong beam of light of one color (laser) to heal a damaged area. A person with diabetes might be treated with a laser beam to heal blood vessels in the eye. Also See Photocoagulation.
Latent Diabetes – Former term for impaired glucose tolerance. See als Impaired glucose tolerance.
Lente Insulin – A type of insulin that is intermediate-acting.
Limited Joint Mobility – A form of arthritis involving the hand; it causes the fingers to curve inward and the skin on the palm to tighten and thicken. This condition mainly affects people with IDDM.
Lipid – A term for fat. 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 the lipids into fatty acids and burn them like glucose (sugar).
Lipoatrophy – Small dents in the skin that form when a person keeps injecting the needle in the same spot. Also See Lipodystrophy.
Lipodystrophy – Lumps or small dents in the skin that form when a person keeps injecting the needle in the same spot. Lipodystrophies are harmless. People who want to avoid them can do so by changing (rotating) the places where they inject their insulin. Using purified insulins may also help. Also See Injection site rotation.
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Macroangiopathy – See: Angiopathy.
Macrosomia – Abnormally large; in diabetes, refers to abnormally large babies that may be born to women with diabetes.
Macrovascular Disease – A disease of the large blood vessels that sometimes occurs when a person has had diabetes for a long time. Fat and blood clots build up in the the large blood vessels and stick to the vessel walls. Three kinds of macrovascular disease are coronary disease, cerebrovascular disease, and peripheral vascular disease.
Macular Edema – A swelling (edema) in the macula, an area near the center of the retina of the eye that is responsible for fine or reading vision. Macular edema is a common complication associated with diabetic retinopathy. Also See Diabetic retinopathy; retina.
Maturity-Onset Diabetes – Former term for noninsulin-dependent or Type II diabetes. See: Noninsulin-dependent diabetes mellitus.
Meal Plan – A guide for controlling the amount of calories, carbohydrates, proteins, and fats a person eats. People with diabetes can use such plans as the Exchange Lists or the Point System to help them plan their meals so that they can keep their diabetes under control. Also See Exchange lists; point system.
Metabolism – The term for the way cells chemically change food so that it can be used to keep the body alive. It is a two-part process. One part is called catabolism – when the body uses food for energy. The other is called anabolism – when the body uses food to build or mend cells. Insulin is necessary for the metabolism of food.
Metaformin – A drug currently being tested as a treatment for noninsulin-dependent diabetes; belonging to a class of drugs called biguanides.
Mg/dL Milligrams per deciliter – Term used to describe how much glucose (sugar) is in a specific amount of blood. In self-monitoring of blood glucose, test results are given as the amount of glucose in milligrams per deciliter of blood. A fasting reading of 80 to 120 mg/dL is considered in the normal (nondiabetic) range.
Micro-aneurysm – A small swelling that forms on the side of tiny blood vessels. These small swellings may break and bleed into nearby tissue. People with diabetes sometimes get micro-aneurysms in the retina of the eye.
Microangiopathy – See: Angiopathy.
Microvascular Disease – Disease of the smallest blood vessels that sometimes occurs when a person has diabetes for a long time. The walls of the vessels become abnormally thick but weak, and therefore they bleed, leak protein, and slow the flow of blood through the body. Then some cells, for example, the ones in the center of the eye, may not get enough blood and may become damaged.
Mixed Dose – Combines two kinds of insulin in one injection. A mixed dose commonly combines regular insulin, which is fast acting, with a longer acting insulin such as NPH. A mixed dose insulin schedule may be prescribed to provide both short-term and long-term coverage.
Mononeuropathy – A form of diabetic neuropathy affecting a single nerve. The eye is a common site for this form of nerve damage. See als Neuropathy.
Morbidity Rate – The sickness rate; the number of people who are sick or have a disease compared with the number who are well.
Mortality Rate – The death rate; the number of people who die of a certain disease compared with the total number of people. Mortality is most often stated as deaths per 1,000 per 10,000, or per 100,000 persons.
Myocardial Infarction – Also called a heart attack; results from permanent damage to an area of the heart muscle. This happens when the blood supply to the area is interrupted because of narrowed or blocked blood vessels.
Myo-inositol – A substance in the cell that is thought to play a role in helping the nerves to work. Low levels of myo-inositol may be involved in diabetic neuropathy.
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National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) – One of the 17 institutes that make up the National Institutes of Health, an agency of the Public Health Service.
Necrobiosis Lipoidica Diabeticorum – A skin condition usually on the lower part of the legs. The lesions can be small or extend over a large area. They are usually raised, yellow, and waxy in appearance and often have a purple border. Young women are most often affected. This condition occurs in people with diabetes, or it may be a sign of diabetes. It also occurs in people who do not have diabetes.
Neovascularization – The term used when new, tiny blood vessels grow in a new place, for example, out from the retina. Also See Diabetic Retinopathy.
Nephrologist – A doctor who sees and treats people with kidney diseases.
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 have kidney damage.
Nerve Conduction Studies – Tests to determine nerve function; can detect early neuropathy.
Neurologist – A doctor who sees and treats people with problems of the nervous system.
Neuropathy – Disease of the nervous system. Many people who have had diabetes for a while have nerve damage. The three major forms of nerve damage are: Peripheral neuropathy, autonomic neuropathy, and mononeuropathy. The most common form is peripheral neuropathy, which mainly affects the feet and legs. Also See Peripheral neuropathy; autonomic neuropathy; mononeuropathy.
NIDDM – See: Noninsulin-dependent diabetes mellitus.
Noninsulin-Dependent Diabetes Mellitus (NIDDM) – The most common form of diabetes mellitus; about 90 to 95 percent of people who have diabetes have NIDDM. Unlike the insulin-dependent type of diabetes, in which the pancreas makes no insulin, people with noninsulin-dependent diabetes produce some insulin, sometimes even large amounts. However, either their bodies do not produce enough insulin or their body cells are resistant to the action of insulin (see Insulin Resistance). People with NIDDM can often control their condition by losing weight through diet and exercise. If not, they may need to combine insulin or a pill with diet and exercise. Generally, NIDDM occurs in people who are over age 40. Most of the people who have this type of diabetes are overweight. Noninsulin-dependent diabetes mellitus used to be called “adult-onset diabetes,” “maturity-onset diabetes,” “ketosis-resistant diabetes,” and “stable diabetes.” It is also called Type II diabetes mellitus.
Noninvasive Blood Glucose Monitoring – A way to measure blood glucose without having to prick the finger to obtain a blood sample. Several noninvasive devices are currently being developed.
- Nonketotic Coma – A type of coma caused by a lack of insulin. A nonketotic crisis means:
- Very high levels of glucose (sugar) in the blood;
- Absence of ketoacidosis;
- Great loss of body fluid; and
- A sleepy, confused, or comatose state. Nonketotic coma often results from some other problem such as severe infection or kidney failure.
NPH Insulin – A type of insulin that is intermediate-acting.
Nutrition – The process by which the body draws nutrients from food and uses them to make or mend its cells.
Nutritionist – See: Dietitian.
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Obesity – When people have 20 percent (or more) extra body fat for their age, height, sex, and bone structure. Fat works against the action of insulin. Extra body fat is thought to be a risk factor for diabetes.
Obstetrician – A doctor who sees and gives care to pregnant women and delivers babies.
OGTT – See: Oral glucose tolerance test.
Ophthalmologist – A doctor who sees and treats people with eye problems or 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 and other optical aids and by suggesting eye exercise programs.
Oral Glucose Tolerance Test (OGTT) – A test to see if a person has diabetes. See: Glucose tolerance test.
Oral Hypoglycemic Agents – Pills or capsules that people take to lower the level of glucose (sugar) in the blood. The pills work for some people whose pancreas still makes some insulin. They can help the body in several ways such as causing the cells in the pancreas to release more insulin.
Six types of these pills are for sale in the United States. Four, known as “first-generation” drugs, have been in use for some time. Two types, called “second-generation” drugs, have been developed recently. They are stronger than the first-generation drugs and have fewer side effects. All oral hypoglycemic agents belong to a class of drugs known as sulfonylureas. Each type of pill is sold under two names; one is the generic name as listed by the Food and Drug Administration; the other is the trade name given by the manufacturer. For our purposes here, we list only the trade name.
- First-Generation Agents – Orinase, Dymelor, Tolinase, and Diabinese
- Second-Generation Agents – Glucotrol, Diabeta or Micronase
Overt Diabetes – Diabetes in the person who shows clear signs of the disease such as a great thirst and the need to urinate often. See our list of Warning Signs.
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Pancreas – An organ behind the lower part of the stomach that is about the size of a hand. It makes insulin so that the body can use glucose (sugar) for energy. It also makes enzymes that help the body digest food. Spread all over the pancreas are areas called the islets of Langerhans. The cells in these areas each have a special purpose. The alpha cells make glucagon, which raises the level of glucose in the blood; the beta cells make insulin; the delta cells make somatostatin. There are also the PP cells and the D1 cells, about which little is known.
Pancreas Transplant – A surgical procedure that involves replacing the pancreas of a person who has diabetes with a healthy pancreas that can make insulin. The healthy pancreas comes from a donor who has just died or from a living relative. A person can donate half a pancreas and still live normally.
At present, pancreas transplants are usually performed in persons with insulin-dependent diabetes who have severe complications. This is because after the transplant the patient must take immunosuppressive drugs that are highly toxic and may cause damage to the body.
Pancreatectomy – A procedure in which a surgeon takes out the pancreas.
Pancreatitis – Inflammation (pain, tenderness) of the pancreas; it can make the pancreas stop working. It is caused by drinking too much alcohol, by disease in the gallbladder, or by a virus.
Peak Action – The time period when the effect of something is as strong as it can be such as when insulin in having the most effect on lowering the glucose (sugar) in the blood.
Pediatric Endocrinologist – A doctor who sees and treats children with problems of the endocrine glands; diabetes is an endocrine disorder. See als Endocrine glands.
Periodontal Disease – Damage to the gums. People who have diabetes are more likely to have gum disease than people who do not have diabetes.
Periodontist – A specialist in the treatment of the gums.
Peripheral Neuropathy – Nerve damage, usually affecting the feet and legs; causing pain, numbness, or a tingling feeling. Also called “somatic neuropathy’ or “distal sensory polyneuropathy.”
Peripheral Vascular Disease (PVD) – Disease in the large blood vessels of the arms, legs, and feet. People who have had diabetes for a long time may get this because major blood vessels in their arms, legs, and feet are blocked and these limbs do not receive enough blood. The signs of PVD are aching pains in the arms, legs, and feet (especially when walking) and foot sores that heal slowly. Although people with diabetes cannot always avoid PVD, doctors say they have a better chance of avoiding it if they take good care of their feet, do not smoke, and keep their blood pressure and diabetes under good control. Also See Macrovascular Disease.
Peritoneal Dialysis – A way to clean the blood of people who have kidney disease. See als Dialysis.
Pharmacist – A person trained to prepare and distribute medicines and to give information about them.
Photocoagulation – Using a strong beam of light (laser) to seal off bleeding blood vessels such as in the eye. The laser can also burn away blood vessels that should not have grown in the eye. This is the main treatment for retinopathy.
Pituitary Gland – An endocrine gland in the small, bony cavity at the base of the brain. Often called “the master gland,” the pituitary serves the body in many ways – in growth, in food use, and in reproduction.
Podiatrist – A doctor who treats and takes care of people’s feet.
Podiatry – The care and treatment of human feet in health and disease.
Point System – A way to plan meals that uses points to rate food. The foods are placed in four classes; calories, carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. Each food is given a point value within its class. A person with a planned diet for the day can choose foods in the same class that have the same point values for meals and snacks.
Polydipsia – A great thirst that lasts for long periods of time; a sign of diabetes.
Polyphagia – Great hunger; a sign of diabetes. People with this great hunger often lose weight.
Polyunsaturated Fats – A type of fat that comes from vegetables. See als Fats.
Polyuria – Having to urinate often; a common sign of diabetes.
Postprandial Blood Glucose – Blood taken 1-2 hours after eating to see the amount of glucose (sugar) in the blood.
Preeclampsia – A condition that some women with diabetes have during the late stages of pregnancy. Two signs of this condition are high blood pressure and swelling because the body cells are holding extra water.
Prevalence – The number of people in a given group or population who are reported to have a disease.
Previous Abnormality of Glucose Tolerance (PrevAGT) – A term for people who have had above-normal levels of blood glucose (sugar) when tested for diabetes in the past but who show as normal on a current test. PrevAGT used to be called either “latent diabetes” or “prediabetes.”
Prognosis – Telling a person now what is likely to happen in the future because of having a disease.
Proinsulin – The substance made first in the pancreas that is then made into insulin. When insulin is purified from the pancreas of pork or beef, all the proinsulin is not fully removed. When some people use these insulins, the proinsulin can cause the body to react with a rash, to resist the insulin, or even to make dents or lumps in the skin at the place where the insulin is injected. The purified insulins have less proinsulin and other impurities than the other types of insulins.
Proliferative Retinopathy – A disease of the small blood vessels of the retina of the eye. Also See Diabetic retinopathy.
Prosthesis – A man-made substitute for a missing body part such as an arm or a leg; also an implant such as for the hip.
Protein – One of the 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, and eggs. See als Carbohydrate; fats.
Proteinuria – Too much protein in the urine. This may be a sign of kidney damage.
Pruritus – Itching skin; may be a symptom of diabetes.
Purified Insulins – Insulins with much less of the impure proinsulin. It is thought that the use of purified insulins may help avoid or reduce some of the problems of people with diabetes such as allergic reactions.
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Reagents – Strips or tablets that people use to test the level of glucose (sugar) in their blood and urine or the level of acetone in their urine. These reagents are treated with chemicals that change color during the test. Each type of reagent has its own color code to show how much glucose or acetone there is at the time of the test.
Rebound – A swing to a high level of glucose (sugar) in the blood after having a low level. Also See Somogyi effect.
Receptors – Areas on the outer part of a cell that allow the cell to join or bind with insulin that is in the blood. Also See Insulin receptors.
Regular Insulin – A type of insulin that is fast acting.
Renal – A term that means having something to do with the kidneys.
Renal Threshold – When the blood is holding so much of a substance such as glucose (sugar) that the kidneys allow the excess to spill into the urine. This is also called “kidney threshold,” “spilling point,” and “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. Also See Diabetic retinopathy.
Risk Factor – Anything that raises the chance that a person will get a disease. With noninsulin-dependent diabetes, people have a greater risk of getting the disease if they weigh a lot more (20 percent or more) than they should.
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Saccharin – A man-made sweetener that people use in place of sugar because it has no calories.
Saturated Fat – A type of fat that comes from animals. Also See Fats.
Secondary Diabetes – When a person gets diabetes because of another disease or because of taking certain drugs or chemicals.
Secrete – To make and give off such as when the beta cells make insulin and then release it into the blood so that the other cells in the body can use it to turn glucose (sugar) into energy.
Segmental Transplantation – A surgical procedure in which a part of a pancreas that contains insulin-producing cells is placed in a person whose pancreas has stopped making insulin.
Self-Monitoring of Blood Glucose – A way a person can test how much glucose (sugar) is in the blood. Also called home blood glucose monitoring. Also See Blood glucose monitoring.
Shock – A severe condition that disturbs the body. A person with diabetes can go into shock when the level of blood glucose (sugar) drops suddenly. See als Insulin shock.
Sliding Scale – Adjusting insulin on the basis of blood glucose tests, meals, and activity levels.
Somatic Neuropathy – See: Peripheral neuropathy.
Somatostatin – A hormone made by the delta cells of the pancreas (in areas called the islets of Langerhans). Scientists think it may control how the body secretes two other hormones, insulin and glucagon.
Somogyi Effect – A swing to a high level of glucose (sugar) in the blood from an extremely low level, usually occurring after an untreated insulin reaction during the night. The swing is caused by the release of stress hormones to counter low glucose levels. 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 falling or low, adjustments in evening snacks or insulin doses may be recommended. This condition is named after Dr. Michael Somogyi, the man who first wrote about it. Also called “rebound.”
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.
Sorbitol is also produced by the body. Too much sorbitol in cells can cause damage. Diabetic retinopathy and neuropathy may be related to too much sorbitol in the cells of the eyes and nerves.
Spilling Point – When the blood is holding so much of a substance such as glucose (sugar) that the kidneys allow the excess to spill into the urine. Also See Renal threshold.
Split Dose – Division of a prescribed daily dose of insulin into two or more injections given over the course of the day. Also may be referred to as multiple injections. Many people who use insulin feel that split doses offer more consistent control over blood glucose (sugar) levels.
Stiff Hand Syndrome – Thickening of the skin of the palm that results in loss of ability to hold hand straight. This condition occurs only in people with diabetes.
Stroke – Condition caused by damage to blood vessels in the brain. Depending on the part of the brain affected, a stroke can cause a person to lose the ability to speak or move a part of the body such as an arm or a leg. Usually only one side of the body is affected. Also See Cerebrovascular disease.
Subclinical Diabetes – A term no longer used. See: Impaired glucose tolerance.
Subcutaneous Injection – Putting a fluid into the tissue under the skin with a needle and syringe. Also See Injection.
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. Types of sugar are lactose, glucose, fructose, and sucrose.
Sulfonylureas – Pills or capsules that people take to lower the level of glucose (sugar) in the blood. Also See Oral hypoglycemic agents.
Symptom – A sign of disease. Having to urinate often is a symptom of diabetes. Visit Warning Signs.
Syndrome – A set of signs or a series of events occurring together that make up a disease or health problem.
Syndrome X – Term describing a combination of health conditions that place a person at high risk for heart disease. These conditions are noninsulin-dependent diabetes, high blood pressure, high insulin levels, and high levels of fat in the blood.
Syringe – A device used to inject medications or other liquids into body tissues. The syringe for insulin has a hollow plastic or glass tube (barrel) with a plunger inside. The plunger forces the insulin through the needle into the body. Most insulin syringes now come with a needle attached. The side of the syringe has markings to show how much insulin is being injected.
Systemic – A word used to describe conditions that affect the entire body. Diabetes is a systemic disease because it involves many parts of the body such as the pancreas, eyes, kidneys, heart, and nerves.
Systolic Blood Pressure – See: Blood pressure.
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Team Management – Describes a diabetes treatment approach in which medical care is provided by a physician, diabetes nurse educator, dietitian, and behavioral scientist working together with the patient.
Thrush – An infection of the mouth. In people with diabetes, this infection may be caused by high levels of glucose (sugar) in mouth fluids, which helps the growth of fungus that causes infection. Patches of whitish-colored skin in the mouth are signs of this disease.
Tolazamide – A pill taken to lower the level of glucose (sugar) in the blood. Only some people with noninsulin- dependent diabetes take these pills. Also See Oral hypoglycemic agents.
Tolbutamide – A pill taken to lower the level of glucose (sugar) in the blood. Only some people with noninsulin- dependent diabetes take these pills. Also See Oral hypoglycemic agents.
Toxemia of Pregnancy – A condition in pregnant women in which poisons such as the body’s own waste products build and may cause harm to both the mother and the baby. The first signs of toxemia are swelling near the eyes and ankles (edema), headache, high blood pressure, and weight gain that the mother might confuse with the normal weight gain of being pregnant. The mother may have both glucose (sugar) and acetone in her urine. The mother should tell the doctor about these signs at once.
Toxic – Harmful; having to do with poison.
Transcutaneous Electronic Nerve Stimulation (TENS) – A treatment for painful neuropathy.
Trauma – A wound, hurt, or injury to the body. Trauma can also be mental such as when a person feels great stress.
Triglyceride – A type of blood fat. The body needs insulin to remove this type of fat from the blood. When diabetes is under control and a person’s weight is what it should be, the level of triglycerides in the blood is usually about what it should be.
Twenty-Four Hour Urine – The total amount of a person’s urine for a 24-hour period.
Type I Diabetes Mellitus – See: Insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus.
Type II Diabetes Mellitus – See: Noninsulin-dependent diabetes mellitus.
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U-100 – See: Unit of insulin.
Ulcer – A break in the skin; a deep sore. People with diabetes may get ulcers from minor scrapes on the feet or legs, from cuts that heal slowly, or from the rubbing of shoes that do not fit well. Ulcers can become infected.
Ultralente Insulin – A type of insulin that is long acting.
Ultrasound – Test used to monitor pregnancy and to diagnose neuropathy.
Unit of Insulin – The basic measure of insulin. U-100 insulin means 100 units of insulin per milliliter (mL) or cubic centimeter (cc) of solution. Most insulin made today in the United States is U-100.
Unsaturated Fats – A type of fat. See also Fats.
Unstable Diabetes – A type of diabetes when a person’s blood glucose (sugar) level often swings quickly from high to low and from low to high. Also called “brittle diabetes” or “labile diabetes.”
Urea – One of the chief waste products of the body. When the body breaks down food, it uses what it needs and throws the rest away as waste. The kidneys flush the waste from the body in the form of urea, which is in the urine.
Urine Testing – Checking urine to see if it contains glucose (sugar) and ketones. Special strips of paper or tablets (called reagents) are put into a small amount of urine or urine plus water. Changes in the color of the strip show the amount of glucose or ketones in the urine. Urine testing is the only way to check for the presence of ketones, a sign of serious illness. However, urine testing is less desirable than blood testing for monitoring the level of glucose in the body. Also See Blood glucose monitoring; reagents.
Urologist – A doctor who sees men and women for treatment of the urinary tract and men for treatment of the genital organs.
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Vaginitis – An infection of the vagina usually caused by a fungus. A woman with this condition may have itching or burning and may notice a 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. Also See Blood vessels.
Visceral Neuropathy – See: Autonomic neuropathy.
Vitrectomy – Removing the gel from the center of the eyeball because it has blood and scar tissue in it that blocks sight. An eye surgeon replaces the clouded gel with a clear fluid. Also See Diabetic retinopathy.
Vitreous Humor – The clear jelly (gel) that fills the center of the eye.
Void – To empty the bladder in order to obtain a urine sample for testing.
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Xylitol – A sweetener found in plants and used as a substitute for sugar; it is called a nutritive sweetener because it provides calories, just like sugar.
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