Common diabetes terms

Browse our A to Z list of diabetes terms and references 

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Term Definition
Acetone a chemical (see ketone bodies) formed when the body breaks down fat instead of glucose for energy. Levels rise and acetone "spills" into the urine and is exhaled in the breath producing a "fruity" smell
Adrenal a gland of the endocrine system that produces essential hormones including adrenaline (epinephrine) and cortisol
Adult-onset diabetes another term sometimes used for type 2 diabetes
Albuminuria occurs when a protein called albumin is found in the urine above a specified level - indicates potential kidney damage
Alpha cells cells in the pancreas (the area called the islets of the Langherans), that produce the hormone glucagon which in turn raises blood glucose levels
Angiopathy a disease of the blood vessels (arteries, veins, and capillaries) that occurs as a long-term complication of diabetes. Two types macroangiopathy and microangiopathy
Antibodies substances occurring naturally in the body that help fight infection
Arteriosclerosis thickening, hardening and narrowing of the arteries
Artheriosclerosis see Arteriosclerosis
Artery a blood vessel that carries blood away from the heart
Aspartame a low calorie synthetic sweetener
Asymptomatic no symptoms or sign of disease present

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Term Definition
Background retinopathy an early stage of diabetic retinopathy that usually does not impair vision - also referred to as "nonproliferative retinopathy"
Beta cells the insulin producing cells of the pancreas
Blood pressure is the force of the blood on the walls of arteries. Two levels of blood pressure are measured - the higher, or systolic, pressure, occurs each time the heart pushes blood into the vessels, and the lower, or diastolic, pressure, occurs when the heart rests. In a blood pressure reading of 120/80, 120 is the systolic pressure and 80 is the diastolic pressure. High blood pressure can lead to health problems such as heart attacks and strokes
Brittle diabetes phrase 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

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Term Definition
Callus a hardened or thickened part of the skin caused by pressing or rubbing
Calorie a measure of the energy value of foods. Nnow replaced by kilojoule: 1 calorie = 4.2 kilojoules
Candida a yeast like fungus infection often affecting the female genital area
Capillary smallest of the body's blood vessels
Carbohydrate foods which contain sugars and starches
Cardiovascular relating to the heart and blood vessels (arteries, veins, and capillaries) - the circulatory system
Cataract clouding of the lens of the eye
Cell the microscopic unit that forms the basis of all living things
Chemical diabetes a term no longer used - see impaired glucose tolerance
Cholesterol a steroid produced by the human body, which acts as the precursor for all steroid hormones. Too much cholesterol, however, may cause fat to build up in the artery walls and cause a disease that slows or stops the flow of blood
Claudication pain in the calf muscles occurring on exercise and disappearing with rest. Caused by decreased blood supply
Coma loss of consciousness from any cause. In diabetes may result from either very high or very low blood glucose levels
Creatinine a waste product normally removed by the kidneys. The amount in blood and urine can show whether the kidney is functioning properly
Cyclamate a low calorie artificial sweetener
Cystitis an inflammation of the urinary bladder

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Term Definition
Dawn phenomenon a sudden rise in blood glucose levels in the early morning hours. This sometimes occurs in people with type 1 diabetes and rarely in people with type 2 diabetes
Dehydrated great loss of water or fluid from the body. A very high level of glucose in the urine causes loss of a great deal of water, and the person becomes very thirsty
Dextrose see glucose
Diabetes insipidus a disease of the pituitary gland or kidney, but not diabetes mellitus. Socalled because most people who have it show most of the same signs as someone with diabetes mellitus-they have to urinate often, get very thirsty and hungry, and feel weak. However, they do not have glucose in their urine
Diabetic coma a severe emergency in which a person is not conscious because the blood glucose 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
Diabetic ketoacidosis severe, out-of-control diabetes 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.
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
Dialysis artificial removal of waste products from the blood when the kidneys fail
Digestion breaking down food in the stomach and intestines
DKA see diabetic ketoacidosis

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Term Definition
Electrocardiograph (ECG) the recording of the electrical activity of the heart
Endocrine glands glands that produce chemicals (hormones) which affect other body cells
Enzyme special type of protein. Enzymes help the body's chemistry work better and more quickly
Epinephrine one of the secretions of the adrenal glands. It helps the liver release glucose and limit the release of insulin. It also makes the heart beat faster and can raise blood pressure; also called adrenalin
Exchanges 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: starch/bread, meat, vegetables, fruit, milk, and fats. Within a food group, each serving has about the same amount of carbohydrate, protein, fat, and calories

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Term Definition
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 energy stores for the body. In food, there are two types of fats: saturated and unsaturated
Fat atrophy hollows (atrophy) or lumps (hypertrophy) that occur at sites of repeated insulin injection
Fibre food substances found in cereals, fruits and vegetables that are not digested but help the function of the intestines
Fluorescein a harmless yellow coloured dye that is used to outline the vessels of the eye
Fructosamine a glycated protein like glycated haemoglobin that measures glucose control over the preceding 2 to 3 weeks
Fructose a sugar found in fruits

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Term Definition
Gangrene death of body tissue usually caused by lack of blood supply
Gestational referring to the period of pregnancy from conception to birth
Glomerulus a tiny tuft of blood vessels that is part of the functional unit of the kidney
Glucagon a hormone produced in the pancreas that increases blood glucose
Glucose a simple sugar found in the blood. It is the body's main source of energy; also known as dextrose
Glucose tolerance test a diagnostic test for diabetes involving a drink of glucose (after an overnight fast) followed by a series of blood glucose estimations over 2 hours
Glycated Haemoglobin

haemoglobin with glucose and other sugars chemically bound to it - also referred to as glycosylated haemoglobin. Haemoglobin A1c is a specific component of glycated haemoglobin


Glycosuria the presence of glucose in the urine

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Term Definition
Haemoglobin the red coloured iron protein that carries oxygen in red cells
HLA human leucocyte antigens which are natural markers on white cells much the same as blood groups on red cells
Hormone a chemical substance produced by endocrine glands which causes specific effects on other cells
Hyperglycaemia blood glucose higher than normal
Hyperosmolar coma A coma related to high levels of glucose 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 high blood pressure
Hypoglycaemia too low a level of glucose 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 to 15 minutes
Hypertrophy see fat atrophy
Impaired glucose tolerance (IGT) blood glucose 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

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Term Definition
Impaired glucose tolerance  
Impotence the inability in males to start, sustain or complete the act of sexual intercourse
Insulin a hormone produced by the pancreas that lowers blood glucose
Insulin-dependent diabetes see type 1 diabetes
IDDM see type 1 diabetes
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
Intramuscular administration of a medication through a needle into the muscles
Intravenous administration of a medication through a needle into a vein
Islet cells (of Langerhans) clusters of cells in the pancreas which include the beta (insulin producing) and alpha (glucagon producing) cells

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Term Definition
Juvenile onset diabetes see type 1 diabetes

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Term Definition
Ketone bodies  
Ketones chemical substances from the breakdown of fat which can be dangerous in large amounts
Ketonuria warns of ketoacidosis
Ketoacidosis uncontrolled blood glucose and ketone levels that cause dehydration, concentration of body fluids, build-up of acids (acidosis) and coma (see diabetic ketoacidosis)

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Term Definition
Lactic acidosis a serious condition caused by the build-up of lactic acid which is produced from glucose when there is not enough oxygen. Similar effects as ketoacidosis
Lactose a sugar found in milk
Laser an intense narrow beam of light which can be used to heal damaged areas in the body (for example, blood vessels in the eye)

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Term Definition
Macrovascular referring to the large blood vessels
Maturity onset diabetes see Type 2 diabetes
Metabolism the physical and chemical changes occurring in the body
Microalbuminuria leakage of small amounts of protein (albumin) into the urine. An early warning of kidney damage
Microvascular referring to the small blood vessels
Millimole (mmol) a measurement of the concentration of chemicals in the body
Monila see Candida

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Term Definition
Nephropathy disease of the kidneys
Neuropathy disease of the nerves

Non-insulin dependent diabetes


see type 2 diabetes
NIDDM see type 2 diabetes

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Term Definition
Obesity the condition of severe overweight
Oral hypoglycaemic drug medications taken by mouth that stimulate the release or improve the action of insulin

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Term Definition
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
Photocoagulation using a special 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 diabetic retinopathy
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
Polyuria the passage of large amounts of urine
Portions see exchanges
Prandial referring to meals. Pre-prandial, before meals. Post-prandial, after meals
Proteinuria too much protein in the urine. This may be a sign of kidney damage
Pruritus itching

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Term Definition
Renal a term that means having something to do with the kidneys
Renal threshold the blood glucose level above which glucose spills into the urine
Retinopathy damage to the retina of the eye

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Term Definition
Saccharin a low calorie artificial sweetener
Somogyi effect a rebound effect of low followed by high blood glucose caused by too much insulin
Sorbitol a sugar used to sweeten foods
Subcutaneous underneath the skin
Sucrose 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
Sugars simple carbohydrates which are sweet and occur widely in nature. For example fructose, glucose, lactose, sucrose

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Term Definition
Thrush see Candida
Thyroid an endocrine gland in the base of the neck producing hormones controlling the body's metabolism
Triglyceride a type of fat found in the blood and other parts of the body
Type 1 diabetes where little or no insulin is made, usually occurring under the age of 30 and requiring insulin injections for life. Also known as insulin dependent and juvenile onset diabetes
Type 2 diabetes insulin is present but doesn't work adequately. Usually occurs over the age of 30 and is controlled by diet and medication or diet and insulin. Also known as non-insulin dependent and maturity onset diabetes

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Term Definition
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
Unit the basic measure of insulin. U-100 insulin means 100 units of insulin per milliliter (mL) or cubic centimeter (cc) of solution
Uraemia build-up of poisons because of kidney failure
Urine testing checking urine to see if it contains glucose 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

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Term Definition
Vein a blood vessel that carries blood to the heart


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Term Definition
Xylitol a sweetener found in plants and used as a substitute for sugar

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