Glossary of Terms

Atherosclerosis: One of the many diseases in which fat builds up in large and medium-sized blood vessels. This buildup of fat may slow down or stop blood flow. While this disease can happen to anyone, people who have diabetes are at increased risk of developing atherosclerosis.

Carbohydrate: One of the three main types of nutrients required for human health. Carbohydrates are the body's main source of energy. Carbohydrates are found in three food groups: bread and starch, fruit, and juice, milk and yogurt.

Certified Diabetes Educator: A healthcare professional who has passed the examination given by the National Certification Board for Diabetes Educators. This test certifies that the educator has worked in diabetes for at least two years and is knowledgeable on all aspects of diabetes care and on teaching methods.

Cholesterol: A fat-like substance made by the bodies of people and animals. In correct amounts, cholesterol has important jobs in the body. But when the level of cholesterol in the bloodstream becomes too high, it can build up on blood vessel walls. Having a blood cholesterol level greater than 200 mg/dL increases a person's risk for heart disease.

Diabetes Control and Complications Trial (DCCT): A 10-year study that compared the health of patients with Type 1 diabetes receiving two different levels of treatment. Patients who maintained near normal blood sugar control through more intensive management had far less risk of developing eye, kidney, and nerve damage.

Diabetologist: A medical doctor who specializes in treating people with diabetes.

Endocrinologist: A medical doctor with special training to treat problems with body glands, such as the pancreas, thyroid, pituitary, and adrenal glands.

Erectile Dysfunction: The loss of a man’s ability to have an erect penis and to emit semen. It may be caused by damaged nerves and reduced blood flow related to diabetes, but there are other possible causes such as poor circulation. It is also referred to as impotence. Impotence should be evaluated by a physician (usually a urologist) in order to find the true cause and the best treatment.

Gestational Diabetes: This is diabetes which develops during pregnancy, usually at the end of the second or beginning of the third trimester. It is more common among older and overweight women but also in ethnic minorities in a disproportionate manner. It may be treated with oral medications or insulin.

Glucagon: A body hormone that raises the level of sugar in the blood. Glucagon is made in the pancreas. It is released to the bloodstream when the level of sugar in the blood begins to fall below the normal range. Glucagon is available as a medication that can be injected. It is used to treat very severe low blood sugar when the affected person cannot swallow or passes out.

Glucose: A simple form of sugar. Glucose is the form of sugar that is found in the blood and is used by body tissues for energy.

Glycosylated Hemoglobin Test (HgbA1c): A blood test that measures a person's average blood sugar level over the two-to three-month period before the test.

HDL Cholesterol: High density lipoprotein cholesterol. It actually protects against heart disease when the level is high. The level is determined mainly by genes but may be influenced positively by exercise, weight loss, and moderate alcohol consumption. (See LDL cholesterol)

Hyperglycemia: High blood sugar. It occurs when the body does not have enough insulin or cannot use the insulin that it has to move sugar from the bloodstream into body cells. The symptoms of hyperglycemia include great hunger and thirst and the need to urinate often. If left untreated, hyperglycemia can lead to more serious health problems.

Hypoglycemia: Low blood sugar. This occurs when insulin, food, and exercise are out of balance, allowing the level of sugar in the blood to fall below the normal range. The symptoms of hypoglycemia include weakness, shakiness, hunger, sweating and in severe cases, unconsciousness. Mild hypoglycemia can usually be effectively treated by eating or drinking a simple carbohydrate.

Impotence: (See Erectile Dysfunction)

Insulin: A hormone secreted by the pancreas that lowers the level of sugar in the blood by allowing sugar to enter body cells. It is released to the bloodstream when the level of sugar in the blood begins to rise above the normal range. Insulin is also available as a medication that can be injected to treat diabetes and mimics the normal physiological response from the pancreas.

  • Basal insulin – long acting that provides a continuous supply of insulin needed to maintain glucose levels.
  • Bolus insulin – short or rapid acting that provides needed insulin to maintain glucose levels after a meal or snack.

Insulin Reaction: The symptoms experienced by people whose blood sugar level has fallen too low. The person may feel weak, shaky, nervous, sweaty, or confused. (See hypoglycemia)

Intensive Diabetes Therapy: A comprehensive approach to diabetes care that uses all available treatment tools. The goal of intensive therapy is blood sugar control in the near normal range. Intensive therapy requires people with diabetes to learn about their disease and become active in daily care. Intensive therapy includes attention to diet, exercise, blood sugar monitoring, and for most patients, medication. Therapy is adjusted frequently to improve blood sugar control. Intensive therapy should be implemented cautiously with regard to age, capabilities, coexisting diseases, and history of severe hypoglycemia or unawareness of hypoglycemia. This is particularly important in view of recent studies suggesting an increased rate of sudden death in patients with longstanding diabetes and/or coexistent heart disease.

Insulin pen: Penlike device containing a prefilled cartridge of insulin. An insulin pen and pen needle can be used instead of a syringe to inject insulin.

Insulin pump: Externally worn pump device that continuously delivers programmed amounts of insulin.

Ketoacidosis: A complication of type 1 diabetes. In ketoacidosis, body tissues become too acidic because of a buildup of poisonous ketones. (see Ketones) Ketoacidosis occurs when too little insulin is present in the body. It is a medical emergency that must be treated at once, often in a hospital. The symptoms of ketoacidosis include tiredness, unexplained rapid weight loss, fruity odor to the breath, frequent urination, stomach pain, and rapid labored breathing.

Ketones: Toxic chemical produced in the body when fat is burned for energy. When too little insulin is available to get sugar into body cells, the body is forced to use fat for energy and ketones are produced. Ketones from the blood spill over into the urine where they can be detected by a simple urine test. Ketones also leave the body through the lungs. This makes the breath of a person producing ketones smell fruity. 

LADA:  Latent Autoimmune Diabetes in Adults.  This is also called type 1.5 diabetes or double diabetes.  In this case signs of both type 1 and type 2 diabetes are present.  Diagnosis usually occurs after age 30.  Most people with LADA still produce their own insulin when first diagnosed, like those with type 2 diabetes, however within a few years insulin injections are needed to control blood glucose levels.  In LADA as in type 1 diabetes, the beta cells of the pancreas stop making insulin because the body's immune system attacks and destroys them.  Some experts believe that LADA is a slowly developing kind of type 1 diabetes.

LDL Cholesterol: Low density lipoprotein cholesterol--the form in which cholesterol travels in the bloodstream. This form of cholesterol plays a big role in the development of atherosclerosis. Risk for heart disease is increased in people whose LDL cholesterol is greater than 130 mg/dL. It is determined genetically but also strongly influenced by diet, exercise, and treated with oral medication.

Lipid: A term for fats that circulate in the bloodstream. There are many types of lipids in the body. Some have special functions, like cholesterol. Others are used to store excess energy for later use. High lipid levels are generally related to increased heart and circulatory disease.

Microalbuminuria: The presence of very small amounts of protein in the urine; a very early sign of developing kidney disease.

Nephropathy: Damage to the nephrons, or filtering portions, of the kidneys. Nephropathy is one of the possible long term complications of having diabetes. Nephropathy causes the kidneys to lose their filtering ability. When this happens, some substances that should remain in the body are lost in the urine. In addition, some waste products are prevented from leaving the body as they should.

Neuropathy: Damage to nerve tissues. Neuropathy is one of the possible long-term complications of having diabetes. Nerve damage can effect many parts of the body. Neuropathy often cases pain in the feet or legs or tingling or numbness in those areas. Other effects of neuropathy can cause double vision, diarrhea, poor digestion, and loss of response during sexual activity.

Ophthalmologist: A medical doctor trained to diagnose and treat diseases and other problems of the eyes.

Optometrist: A health care professional, trained to treat eyes, prescribe corrective lenses, and other optical aids.

Oral Diabetes Agent: A drug that can be taken by mouth by people with type 2 diabetes in order to lower or prevent high blood sugar.

Pancreas: An organ of the body that lies behind the lower part of the stomach. Specialized cells in the pancreas produce vital body chemicals and digestive enzymes, including insulin and glucagon--all of which are needed to enable the body to use the nutrients in foods.

Podiatrist: A doctor who treats and takes care of people's feet.

Protein: A type of nutrient required for human health. Proteins are used to build and repair body tissues. They can also be used for energy. Protein is found in many foods, including meat, fish, poultry, eggs, and cheese.

Retinopathy: Damage to the retina at the back of the eye. Retinopathy is one of the possible long-term complications of having diabetes. The retina contains many small blood vessels that can be injured by high blood sugar and high blood pressure. Retinopathy causes no symptoms in its early, most treatable stages. If left untreated, retinopathy can lead to complete loss of vision. It can be detected at early stages by a complete eye exam.

Self-Monitoring of Blood Glucose: This term refers to home testing and recording blood sugar over time. The results of blood sugar tests can be used to identify problems in diabetes control. Changes in meals, medications, or physical activity can be made to correct the problems found through self-monitoring of blood glucose. It is essential to the modern management of diabetes.

Survival Skills Education: This is education that is given to a patient so that they can be discharged safely. For patients who are newly diagnosed with diabetes this would mean that they are taught how to care for their diabetes before discharge. For patients who are new to insulin or blood glucose monitoring, this would mean that they are taught these skills before they go home. For patients who are admitted to the hospital because of a problem with their diabetes management at home this would mean that they will receive the education they need to prevent another hospitalization.

Triglycerides: A form of fat found in the body. Extra calories are stored for later use as triglycerides. Triglycerides also circulate in the bloodstream. High blood triglyceride levels are associated with an increased risk for heart disease. Triglycerides tend to be elevated when blood sugar is elevated.

Type 1 Diabetes: Diabetes in which there is a complete lack of insulin. People with type 1 diabetes must inject insulin every day to live. Type 1 diabetes usually begins when people are young, although it can occur in older adults as well. Because of its prevalence in young people, type 1 diabetes was once called juvenile onset diabetes.

Type 2 Diabetes: Diabetes in which available insulin cannot properly be used. Most people are overweight when they develop type 2 diabetes. Extra body fat interferes with the body's ability to use its own insulin. Because type 2 diabetes is found most often in middle aged or older adults, it was once called adult onset diabetes. People with type 2 diabetes may also take insulin.


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