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Guide to Diabetes

Diabetes - Glossary of Terms

Diabetes is a common condition, which most people have some understanding of, but when you listen to people talk about it, you may feel as if it has a language of its own.

It does not matter if you are newly diagnosed or have been diagnosed for some time, it always helps to refresh your understanding of everyday words used in diabetes, as terms can change.

Rather than assuming you know the meanin of the words used, listed below alphabetically, are the most common ones you will hear when you are discussing your diabetes with your diabetes healthcare team.


Annual Review is an essential check of your health that everyone with diabetes should have once a year. it includes various blood tests and physical examinations and also offers an opportunity to chat with your diabetes healthcare team about your diabetes and issues relating to it.

Autoimmune is where something goes wrong with the immune defence and the cells of your own body are attacked. This is seen in Type 1 diabetes, as the insulin producing cells of the pancreas are destroyed by a process in the body known as 'autoimmunity' in which the body's cells attack each other, leading to a loss of insulin production.


Beta cells are cells in the islets of your pancreas that produce insulin 

Blood glucose levels is the amount of glucose in your body

Blood glucose meters are electronic machines (biosensors) that your diabetes team and you can use to test your current blood glucose levels 

Blood Pressure is the amount of force exerted against the walls of your arteries. two things are measured when your blood pressure is taken. the units are expressed in millimetres of mercury, e.g. 120/70mmHg. The systolic pressure is the topo number and is the pressure in the arteries when the heart is forcing blood through them. The Diastolic pressure is the bottom number and is the pressure int he arteries when the heart relaxes

Blood glucose test strips are the strips used with a blood glucose meter. you insert a strip into a blood glucose meter, prick your finger and place the blood sample onthe strip. the meter reads the strip and gives your current blood glucose level

Body mass index (BMI) is an expression of adult weight in relation to height 


Carbohydrates come form food that we digest . during digestion carbohydrates are broken down into glucose. They are the main source of energy in our diet and includes all sugars and starches, e.g. pasta, bread, rice and potatoes

Cardiovascular diesease (CVD) refers to diseases of the heart and circulatory system, including coronary heart disease (CHD) and stroke


Dextrose is pure glucose

Diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) This dangerous condition is caused by blood turning acidic from a high level of ketones being released into your blood. It occurs as a result of high blood glucose and too little insulin

Diabetes mellitus is a condition in which the amount of glucose in the blood is too high because the body cannot use it properly

Diabetes specialist nurses (DSN) are key to your care plan and are nurses with specialist training in diabetes

Diabetologist are doctors specialising in diabetes

Diet is an important part of the management of your diabetes. You should eat a healthy, balanced diet that is low in saturated fat, salt and sugar, and high in fruit and vegetables

Dietitians can offer you specialist advice on healthy eating and the impact of different foods on your diabetes control


Erectile dysfunction (or impotence) is the inability to get and /or keep an erection for sexual intercourse, in men with diabetes. This is because of poor blood supply to the penis and/o nerve damage caused by diabetes complications


Fasting blood glucose is a blood glucose test taken before eating, usually in the morning and is used when diagnosing diabetes


Gestational diabetes is a type of diabetes discovered during pregnancy (usually during the second or third trimester), and occurs if the body does not produce enough insulin to meet the extra needs of pregnancy. The Symptoms usually disappear after childbirt, but there is increased risk of acquiring Type 2 diabetes later on in life.

Glucagon is a hormone produced in the pancreas, which raises the blood glucose level. it is produced int he alpha cells in the islets of Langerhans in your pancreas. Glucagon can be given by injection to reverse a severe hypo 

Glucose is a simple type of sugar that comes form digesion of starchy foods (bread, rice , potatos, chapatis, plantian etc..) from sugar and sweet foods and form the liver which makes glucose

Glycaemic Index (GI) this is a methd used to ran k food according to how effect blood glucose levels


HbA1c is a blood test showing how much glucose has bound to your red blood cells over the previous two to thre months and is a good indicator of overall glucose control. it is expressed as mmol/l

Hyperglycaemia (or a 'hyper') means high blood glucose levels

Hypoglycaemia (or a 'hypo') means low blood glucose levels under (4.0mmol/L)

Hypertension means high blood pressure, which can lead to stroke, heart problems and kidney disease 


IDDM is Insulin Dependant Diabetes Mellitus, aka Type 1 Diabetes

Impaired glucose tolerance (IGT) and impaired fasting glycaemia (IFG) are conditions where glucose levels are higher than normal, but not high enough to diagnose diabetes. People with OGT or IFG have an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and may go on to develop Type 2 diabetes

Insulin is a hormone produced naturally in humans and animals in the beta cells of the pancreas. Insulin helps glucose in the blood enter your body'd cells where it is used as fuel by your body

Insulin resistance is where your body is unable to make proper use of insulinbdue to lack of sensitivity at cell level. this affects tissue particulary around the abdomen, hips and thighs know as adipose tissue


Juvenile diabetes is diabetes in childhood and adolescence


Ketone test strips test for the presence of ketones (see diabetic ketoacidosis)


Lancets are needed for blpd glucose testing. you insert them into a finger pricking device to prick your finger to obtain a drop of blood, which is them used for a blood glucose test

Lipids are fatty substances int he blood, e.g. cholesterol and triglycerides


Maturity Onset Diabetes of the Young (MODY) is a rare type of diabetes that devlops before the age of 25, runs in the family and can often be controlled by diet and physical activity alone or by activity and tablets

Microalbuminuria is the presence of small amountd of protien in urine. The protein appears in the first stages of kidney disease

Multiple injection treatment is treatment with injections of short or fast acting insulin before meals and intermediate or long acting insulin usually used before bedtime


National Service Framework (NSF) for diabete is a document that sets out how servies for diabetes are to be planned, put into effect and monitored and what kind of diabetes care people can expect from their NHS trust

Nephropathy is acomplication of diabetes that results form damage to the kidneys

Neuropathy is damage to the nerves, which carry messages to and from the brain and spinal cord. iy is caused by many years of high blood glucose levels. The symptoms include pins and needles and numbness or pain in the feet or hands


Opthalmologists are doctors with specialist training in the diagnosis and treatment of eye diseases

Optometrists are trianed to perfom eye examinations and test for eye problems. they do not treat eye disorders (see opthalmologist) 

Oral Hypoglycaemic Agents are also called diabetes tablets, there are several types:

  • Sulphonylureas 
  • Biguanide
  • Post Prandial glucose regulators
  • Thiazolidinesdiones (Glitazones)
  • Alpha-glucosidase inhibitors


Pancreas is the organ in your abdominal cavity that produces digestive enzymes (released into the intestines) and different ormones ( released in your blood) including insulin

Physical activity is an importnat part of managing diabetes as it helps to lower blood glucose levels

Podiatrists are healthcare professionals with expert knowledge in feet and footcare

Proteinuria refers to larger amounts of protein in the urine due to kidney damage form having high blood glucose levles. it is detectable by routine dipsticks and generally a sign of more advanced kidney disease

Primary Care Trusts (PCTs) are responsible for buying or commisioning health services for a local area


Retinopathy is a complication of diabetes that can lead to blindness and esults form damage to the blood vessels in the back of the eye due to many years of high blood glucose levels


Retinal screening refers to regular eye examinations where the pupils are dilated to detect any early changes at the back of they due to many years of high blood glucose levels.



Sensor is the name given to the test strip needed with your blood glucose monitor to test your blood glucose levels

Sharps are any sharp medical device, such as needles or lancets. After use, sharps need to be disposed of safely in a sharps bin

Subcutaneous is the fatty area under the skin. This is the area used when injecting insulin


Type 1 diabetes develops if the body is unable to produce any insuli. thi stype of diabets usually appears before the the age of 40. it is tretaed with a healthy diet, insulin injections and physical activity

Type 2 diabetes develops when the body can still make some insuli, but not enough,  or when the insulin that is produced does not work properly (known as insulin resistance). This type of diabetes usually appears in people over the age of 40. It can be tretaed in a variet of ways: by diet and physical acvity alone: by diet, physcial activity and tablets; or by diet, physical actiity and insulin injections

Urine test strips the method used before the availability of blood glucose testing to test for glucose. Urine testing only shows thta you r blood glucose level has been high, not what the level is or has been

Venous blood test used to tke a blood sample from a blood vessel (vein)

This is by no means comprehensive, but it will give you a good background and understanding of the basic everyday words and phrases you will come across when learning and discussing diabetes.