Diabetes Glossary – Diabetes-Related Words You Should Know

Posted April 8, 2020 by Clint Kelly - See Editorial Guidelines

The following is a glossary of the most commonly used words for diabetes.


An antibody is a blood protein that is produced as part of a response to antigens. The immune system uses antibodies to identify and destroy foreign objects such as bacteria and viruses.


Antigens are foreign objects or pathogens that enter the body. They trigger a response of the immune system to produce antibodies.


Autoantibodies are antibodies that mistakenly target the body’s own tissues. With type 1 diabetes autoantibodies start attacking insulin-producing beta cells that are produced by the pancreas. This results in insulin production being slowed and eventually stopped.

Autoimmune Disorder

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disorder. An autoimmune disorder is a condition where the body essentially attacks itself. The immune system begins to attack its own tissues. The cause of type 1 diabetes and other autoimmune disorders is not fully known.

Basal Rate

The basal rate is a small amount of insulin that is secreted throughout the day. Those with type 1 diabetes may have an insulin pump that has a basal rate. Those without an insulin pump will have a long-acting insulin to replace this. Even those without diabetes normally have a small amount of insulin present in their blood, known as the basal. 

Beta cells

Beta cells are responsible for making insulin and are found within clusters of cells called islets in the pancreas.  

Blood glucose level

Blood glucose level is the amount of glucose in your blood. Those with diabetes monitor their blood glucose level daily. A normal glucose level for those without diabetes is below 100 mg/dL after fasting and below 140 mg/dL two hours after eating. A person with diabetes should aim to have a blood glucose level between 70-130 mg/dL before meals and below 180 mg/dL two hours after a meal.

Bolus insulin

Bolus insulin is the insulin a person with diabetes gives themselves to compensate for a meal or correction. Typically, the bolus insulin is given about 15 minutes prior to a meal. If hypoglycemia is a concern, then the bolus may be given during or after the meal. A bolus for a correction is given if the person with diabetes has hyperglycemia.


Carbohydrates are the main category of food that those with diabetes need to be concerned about the most. Carbohydrates consist of starches, sugars, and fibers found in certain foods. Your body will break the carbohydrates down into glucose, which your body then uses for energy. 

Diabetes mellitus

Diabetes mellitus is the full technical name for diabetes. Diabetes mellitus, often just referred to as diabetes, is a disease where the body’s ability to respond to or produce insulin is impaired.

Diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA)

Diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) is a life-threatening condition that occurs when a person’s blood sugar is elevated for a time. The body is unable to use glucose in the blood for energy due to impaired insulin production or response. When DKA occurs, the body begins breaking down fat at a rapid rate, which then causes the liver to process the fat into ketones. The ketones can cause the blood to become acidic. If DKA is left untreated for a period, it can lead to a coma and maybe even death.


Kidney disease or failure is a long-term complication of diabetes, which can lead to a person being put on dialysis. Dialysis is the process of removing excess water and toxins in those whose kidneys cannot work properly. 

Endocrine system

The endocrine system contains various glands that are responsible for producing hormones that regulate bodily functions. Diabetes is a condition of the endocrine system because insulin is considered a hormone that regulates blood sugar. 

Fasting blood glucose

Fasting blood glucose is the blood sugar level of an individual after they have fasted from eating for typically at least 8 hours. A fasting blood glucose is taken to commonly diagnose and detect diabetes. 


Fat is one energy source for the body. Foods that are higher in fat may contribute to insulin resistance. 

Gestational diabetes

Gestational diabetes occurs during pregnancy due to the body not being able to use or make enough insulin needed for pregnancy. Those with gestational diabetes are at a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes later in life. Gestational diabetes is usually diagnosed between the 24th and 28th weeks of pregnancy. Seek medical attention if you begin to have signs and symptoms.


Glucagon is another hormone produced by the pancreas and raises blood sugar levels when they are low. A person with diabetes may need a glucagon injection to treat severe hypoglycemia.


Glucose is a simple sugar that is an energy source for the body. Insulin is needed for the body to be able to use glucose for energy. 

Glucose intolerance

Glucose intolerance is an overarching term used to describe metabolic conditions that result in elevated blood sugar levels.

Hemoglobin A1c

Hemoglobin A1c (HbA1c) is a blood glucose test that measures the average blood sugar of an individual for the past two to three months. An HbA1c is often needed for your doctor to see how well blood glucose levels are being controlled.


Hyperglycemia is a term used to describe a high blood sugar level


Hypoglycemia is a term used to describe a low blood sugar level.


Insulin is a hormone produced in the pancreas and is responsible for lowering and regulating blood glucose levels. Insulin allows glucose that is in the blood to enter cells, which provides them with energy to function. 

Insulin resistance

Insulin resistance is a condition in which the body’s cells do not respond to insulin, resulting in elevated blood glucose. This is often the cause of type 2 diabetes.

Insulin sensitivity

Insulin sensitivity describes how responsive the body’s cells are to insulin. High insulin sensitivity means that the body can utilize glucose in the blood at an optimal level allowing for blood glucose to be lowered. Low insulin sensitivity means that the body is not able to utilize glucose well, resulting in elevated blood glucose (insulin resistance).

Insulin to carb ratio

Insulin to carb ratio means you will take one unit of insulin for every certain amount of carbohydrates consumed. For example, a ratio of 1:12 means that 1 unit of insulin is needed for every 12 grams of carbs consumed.

Juvenile Diabetes

Juvenile diabetes is another term for type 1 diabetes, as it is often diagnosed at a young age.


Ketones are chemicals produced by the liver when fat is being broken down for energy. They are byproducts of the breakdown of fatty acids. The blood can become acidic if too many ketones are present, which can lead to diabetic ketoacidosis.

Latent autoimmune diabetes in adults (LADA)

Latent autoimmune diabetes in adults (LADA) may also be called type 1.5 diabetes. LADA is an autoimmune disease, just like type 1 diabetes, but occurs later in life. Typically, LADA is diagnosed after the age of 30 and will require insulin therapy for treatment. It may often be misdiagnosed at type 2 diabetes in the early stages.


Lipohyertrophy is a lump that occurs under the skin due to the overuse of an injections site. This is more common among those with type 1 diabetes that need multiple injections a day. Lipohyertrophy may be painful or uncomfortable, and insulin may not be absorbed as well when this occurs.

Macrovascular complications

Macrovascular complications is a term to describe damage to large blood vessels from hyperglycemia, causing narrowing of the arterial walls. Macrovascular complications include coronary artery disease, peripheral arterial disease, and stroke.

Microvascular complications

Microvascular complications is a term to describe damage to smaller blood vessels throughout the body. These complications can lead to problems with the eyes (retinopathy or cataracts), nephropathy, and neuropathy.


Nephropathy is damage to the small blood vessels in the kidneys. Nephropathy may also be called diabetic kidney disease.


Neuropathy is damage to the nerves, usually in the hands and feet. This may be associated with weakness, numbness, and pain in the areas with nerve damage.

Oral glucose tolerance test

The oral glucose tolerance test, also known as just glucose tolerance test, is a way to measure your body’s response to sugar. The health care provider will take a blood sample for a fasting glucose level. The patient will then consume a sugary solution, typically containing 75 grams of carbs. A blood sample will be taken again at one hour after and two hours after to measure the body’s response.


The pancreas is an organ of the endocrine and exocrine systems located in the abdomen. It is responsible for regulating blood sugar and for helping digest food.


Pre-diabetes is a condition where blood sugar levels are elevated but not high enough to be diagnosed with diabetes. It is estimated that more than one-third of Americans have pre-diabetes. This is an early sign of type 2 diabetes and insulin resistance.


Protein is an essential component for all living organisms, and it is a source of energy for the body. Protein is composed of amino acids and is often found in meat and beans.


Retinopathy is damage to the retina of the eye, which can lead to loss of vision. Retinopathy is caused by abnormal blood flow in the small blood vessels of the eye, which is often associated with diabetes.

Somogyi Effect

The Somogyi effect is when a patient’s blood sugar rebounds, going high after being low. This effect is often associated with having low blood sugars during the night and waking up with hyperglycemia.

Target range

A person’s target range is the range in which they try to keep their blood sugar level. For example, a blood glucose target range for most patients with diabetes is between 70-130 mg/dL. A target range after eating is anything below 180 mg/dL.


We hope this diabetes glossary gives you a better understanding of words that are associated with diabetes. If you are struggling to afford your medication or are looking to save money, then contact Prescription Hope. Enroll with us and pay just $50 a month for each of your medications.