Type 1 Diabetes Dictionary

This dictionary has been compiled so that you can become familiar with words that are associated with diabetes and used by physicians, nurses, and other health care professionals. We have also included certain terms that people with diabetes will use when describing what is going on with them when they experience symptoms. This is just a selection of the most common terms used, and will hopefully be helpful as a guide.

The words are listed in alphabetical order. Resources for this listing include, but are not limited to:

  • JDRF
  • National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse; National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, National Institutes of Health
  • The American Diabetes Association

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–this is referred to as “acetone breath.”

Acidosis Too much acid in the body. For a person with diabetes, this can lead to diabetic ketoacidosis.

Antiseptic An agent that kills bacteria. Alcohol is a common antiseptic. Before injecting insulin, many people use alcohol to clean their skin to avoid infection.

Aspartame A man-made sweetener that many people use in place of sugar because it has very few calories.

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. Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease because the immune system attacks and destroys the insulin-producing beta cells of the pancreas.

Beta Cell A type of cell in the pancreas. Beta cells make and release insulin, a hormone that controls the level of glucose (sugar) in the blood.

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 specially coated strip containing a fresh sample of blood is inserted into a machine, which then calculates the correct level of glucose in the blood sample and shows the result in a digital display. Some meters have a memory that can store results from multiple tests.

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, that “reads” the strip and shows the level of blood glucose in a digital window display. 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 Sugar See: Blood Glucose.

Brittle Diabetes An antiquated term; not a distinct form of diabetes. A term used when a person’s blood glucose (sugar) level often swings quickly from high to low and from low to high.

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. Also see: Meal Plan; Exchange Lists.

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.

Chronic Present over a long period of time. Diabetes is an example of a chronic disease.

Coma A sleep-like state; not conscious. Can 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 had 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, non-diabetic range as possible may help prevent, slow, or delay harmful effects to the eyes, kidneys, and nerves.

Controlled Disease A disease that has less of an effect on the body because it has been properly managed. People with diabetes can “control” the disease by staying on their diets, exercising, taking their medicine if it is needed, and monitoring their blood glucose. This care helps keep the glucose (sugar) level in the blood from becoming either too high or too low.

Dehydration Great loss of body water. A very high level of glucose (sugar) in the bloodstream causes loss of a great deal of water and the person becomes very thirsty.

Dextrose A simple sugar found in the blood. Also called glucose. It is the body’s main source of energy. 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.

Diabetic Coma A severe emergency in which a person is not conscious because his or her blood glucose (sugar) is too low, he or she has hypoglycemia; if the level is too high, the person has hyperglycemia and may develop ketoacidosis. Also see: Hyperglycemia; Hypoglycemia; Diabetic Ketoacidosis.

Diabetic Ketoacidosis Severe 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.

Dietitian An expert in nutrition who helps people with special health needs plan the kind 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.

DKA An abbreviation of Diabetic Ketoacidosis.

Emergency Medical Identification Cards, bracelets, wallet cards, or necklaces with a written message used by people with diabetes or other medical problems to alert others of their condition and identify them in case of a medical emergency, such as coma.

Endocrinologist A physician who treats people who have problems with their endocrine glands. Diabetes is an endocrine disorder.

Exchange Lists A grouping of foods by type to help people who are 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.

Fats One of the main classes of foods and a source of energy in the body. Fats help the body use certain 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. 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. See: Carbohydrate; Protein.

Food Exchange See: Exchange Lists.

Foot Care Taking special steps to avoid foot problems such as sores, cuts, bunions, and calluses. People with diabetes have to take special care of their feet because nerve damage and reduced blood flow sometimes mean that they will have less feeling in their feet than normal. They may not notice cuts and other problems as soon as they should. Good care includes daily examination of the feet, toes, and toenails, and choosing shoes and socks or stockings that fit well.

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.

Gestational Diabetes Mellitus (GDM) A type of diabetes mellitus that can occur when a woman is pregnant. In the second half of the pregnancy, the woman may have glucose (sugar) in the blood at a higher than normal level. However, when the pregnancy ends, the blood glucose level returns to normal in about 95 percent of all cases.

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.

Glucose A simple sugar found in the blood. It is the body’s main source of energy, also known as dextrose. See: Blood Glucose.

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. See: Blood Glucose Monitoring.

Human Insulin Man-made insulins that are similar to insulin produced by your own body. Human insulin has been available since October 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 great thirst, dry mouth, and a need to urinate often. For people with type 1 diabetes, hyperglycemia may lead to diabetic ketoacidosis.

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 to 15 minutes. See: Insulin Shock.

Hypoglycemia Unawareness The phenomenon of hypoglycemia unawareness, known as hypoglycemia-associated autonomic failure, makes people with diabetes who have frequent blood sugar dips unaware of impending low blood sugar and unable to take proper steps (such as eating) to prevent further episodes.

Injection Putting liquid into the body with a needle and syringe. People with diabetes inject insulin by putting the needle into the 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).

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-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 (blood sugar) for energy. IDDM usually comes on abruptly, although the damage to the beta cells may begin much earlier. The signs of IDDM are great thirst, hunger, a need to urinate often, and a loss of weight. To treat and manage 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 of 30. This type of diabetes used to be known as “juvenile diabetes,” “juvenile-onset diabetes” and “ketosis-prone diabetes”. It is also called type 1 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.

Insulin-Induced Hypertrophy Small lumps that form under the skin when a person keeps injecting a needle in the same spot.

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 other times 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 type 1 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 in it will usually help the person feel better within 10 to 15 minutes. See: Hypoglycemia; Insulin Shock.

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 collapsing. Insulin shock may occur when an insulin reaction is not treated quickly enough. See: Hypoglycemia; Insulin Reaction.

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 1 diabetes. See: Insulin-Dependent Diabetes Mellitus.

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 can lead to serious illness and coma. See: Diabetic Ketoacidosis.

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.

Lancet A fine, sharp-pointed blade or needle for pricking the skin to obtain a sample of blood in order to test for glucose (sugar). Also see: Blood Glucose Monitoring.

Lente Insulin A type of insulin that is intermediate-acting.

Meal Plan A guide for controlling the amounts 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. See: Exchange Lists.

Mixed Dose Combining 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. Also see: NPH Insulin.

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. 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 2 diabetes mellitus.

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.

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 type 2 diabetes.

Overt Diabetes Diabetes in a person who shows clear signs of the disease, such as great thirst and the need to urinate often.

Pancreas An organ behind the lower part of the stomach that is about the size of the 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; and the delta cells make somatostain. There are also the PP cells and the D1 cells, about which little is known.

Pharmacist A person trained to prepare and distribute medicines and to give information about them.

Podiatrist A physician who treats and takes care of the feet.

Rebound A swing to a high level of glucose (sugar) in the blood after having a low level.

Regular Insulin A type of insulin that is fast-acting.

Retinopathy A disease of the small blood vessels in the retina of the eye. One of the potential complications of diabetes.

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.

Saccharin A man-made sweetener that people use in place of sugar because it has no calories.

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. 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: Insulin Shock.

Sliding Scale Adjusting insulin on the basis of blood glucose tests, meals, and activity levels.

Subcutaneous Injection Putting a fluid into the tissue under the skin with a needle and syringe. See: Injection.

Sucrose Table sugar; a form of sugar that the body must break down into a more simple form before the body can absorb it and take it to the cells.

Sugar A class of carbohydrates that taste sweet. Sugar is a quick, easy fuel for the body to use. Types of sugar are lactose, glucose, fructose, and sucrose.

Symptom A sign of disease. Having to urinate often is a symptom of diabetes.

Syndrome A set of signs, events, or conditions occurring together that make up a disease or health problem.

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.

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.

Type 1 Diabetes Mellitus See: Insulin-Dependent Diabetes Mellitus.

Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus See: Noninsulin-Dependent Diabetes Mellitus.

Ultralente Insulin A type of insulin that is long-acting.

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.

Unstable Diabetes A type of diabetes in which a person’s blood glucose (sugar) level often swings quickly from high to low and from low to high. Also called “brittle diabetes”

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. See: Blood Glucose Monitoring.

Void To empty the bladder in order to obtain a urine sample for testing.

Compiled by:
Grenae D. Dudley, Ph.D., mother of a child with diabetes, JDRF Metro Detroit Chapter Board Member

Kenneth E. White, step-father of a child with diabetes