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Glossary of terms
Here are some words that you may come across when reading about
diabetes. This is for your information only, and it is not necessary to
know what all the words mean.

Acute - describes something that happens suddenly and for a short time.
Opposite of chronic.1
Adipocytes - fat cells.2
Albumin: Creatinine - this ratio is a useful measure of renal function and is
measured using an early morning urine sample.
Albuminuria - a condition in which the urine has more than normal amounts of a
protein called albumin. Albuminuria may be a sign of nephropathy (Kidney
Alpha cells - a type of cell in the pancreas. Alpha cells make and release a
hormone called glucagon. The body sends a signal to the alpha cells to make
glucagon when blood glucose falls too low. Then glucagon reaches the liver
where it tells it to release glucose into the blood for energy.1
Alpha-glucosidase inhibitor - a class of oral medicine for type 2 diabetes that
blocks enzymes that digest starches in food. The result is a slower and lower
rise in blood glucose throughout the day, especially right after meals. (Generic
Antibodies - proteins made by the body to protect itself from "foreign"
substances such as bacteria or viruses. People get type 1 diabetes when their
bodies make antibodies that destroy the body's own insulin-making beta cells.1
Antigen - a molecule found either inside or on the surface of a cell that can
induce an immune response by stimulating the production of antibodies. Antigens are used by the body's immune system to recognise whether the cell is a dangerous foreign intruder or a harmless part of the body. They are like Arteries - large blood vessels that carry blood with oxygen from the heart to
all parts of the body.1
Arteriosclerosis - hardening of the arteries.1
Continued overleaf
Glossary of terms
Atherosclerosis - clogging, narrowing, and hardening of the body's large
arteries and medium-sized blood vessels. Atherosclerosis can lead to stroke,
heart attack, eye problems, and kidney problems.1
Autoimmune - disorder of the body's immune system in which the immune
system mistakenly attacks and destroys body tissue that it believes to be
Autonomic neuropathy - a type of neuropathy affecting the lungs, heart,
stomach, intestines, bladder, or genitals.1
Beta cells - a cell that makes insulin. Beta cells are located in the islets of the
Biguanide - a class of oral medicine used to treat type 2 diabetes that lowers
blood glucose by reducing the amount of glucose produced by the liver and by
helping the body respond better to insulin. (Generic name: metformin.)1
Blood glucose - the main sugar found in the blood and the body's main source
ras Blood glucose levels - the amount of glucose in a given amount of blood. It is
noted in millimoles per litre, or mmol/l .1
olG Blood pressure - the force of blood exerted on the inside walls of blood
: vessels. Blood pressure is expressed as a ratio (example: 120/80, read as "120
over 80"). The first number is the systolic pressure, or the pressure when the heart pushes blood out into the arteries. The second number is the diastolic
pressure, or the pressure when the heart rests.1 Blood vessels - tubes that carry blood to and from all parts of the body. The
three main types of blood vessels are arteries, veins, and capillaries.1
Body Fat percentage - the proportion of a person’s body that is fat.
NI Body mass index (BMI) - a measure used to evaluate body weight relative to a
person's height. BMI is used to find out if a person is underweight, normal weight, overweight, or obese.1 Calories - a unit representing the energy provided by food. Carbohydrate,
protein, fat, and alcohol provide calories in the diet. Carbohydrate and protein
have 4 calories per gram, fat has 9 calories per gram, and alcohol has 7 calories
per gram.1
Continued overleaf
Glossary of terms
Carbohydrate - one of the three main nutrients in food. Foods that provide
carbohydrate are starches, vegetables, fruits, dairy products, and sugars.1
Cardiovascular disease - disease of the heart and blood vessels (arteries, veins,
and capillaries).1
Cerebrovascular disease - damage to blood vessels in the brain. Vessels can
burst and bleed or become clogged with fatty deposits. When blood flow is
interrupted, brain cells die or are damaged, resulting in a stroke.1
Cholesterol - a type of fat produced by the liver and found in the blood; it is also
found in some foods. Cholesterol is used by the body to make hormones and build
cell walls.1
High density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol - a fat found in the blood
that takes extra cholesterol from the blood to the liver for removal.
Sometimes called "good" cholesterol.1 Low density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol - a fat found in the blood
that takes cholesterol around the body to where it is needed for cell
repair and also deposits it on the inside of artery walls. Sometimes
Total cholesterol - the total amount of cholesterol carried in the blood.
Chronic - describes something that is long-lasting. Opposite of acute.1
Complications - harmful effects of diabetes such as damage to the eyes, heart,
blood vessels, nervous system, teeth and gums, feet and skin, or kidneys. Studies
show that keeping blood glucose, blood pressure, and low-density lipoprotein
cholesterol levels close to normal can help prevent or delay these problems.1
Creatinine - a waste product from protein in the diet and from the muscles of
the body. Creatinine is removed from the body by the kidneys; as kidney disease
progresses, the level of creatinine in the blood increases.1 C-reactive protein (CRP) - a protein present in blood serum in various abnormal
states (as inflammation).
Diabetes mellitus - a condition characterized by hyperglycaemia resulting from
the body's inability to use blood glucose for energy. In type 1 diabetes, the
pancreas no longer makes insulin and therefore blood glucose cannot enter the
cells to be used for energy. In type 2 diabetes, either the pancreas does not
Continued overleaf
Glossary of terms
make enough insulin or the body is unable to use insulin correctly.1 Diabetes nurse - health professional specialising in the education and support
of patients with diabetes.
Diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) - an emergency condition in which extremely high
blood glucose levels, along with a severe lack of insulin, result in the breakdown
of body fat for energy and an accumulation of ketones in the blood and urine.
Signs of DKA are nausea and vomiting, stomach pain, fruity breath odour, and
rapid breathing. Untreated DKA can lead to coma and death.1
Diabetic retinopathy - diabetic eye disease; damage to the small blood vessels
in the retina. Loss of vision may result.1
Diabetologist - a doctor who specializes in treating people who have diabetes.1
Dialysis - the process of cleaning wastes from the blood artificially. This job is
normally done by the kidneys. If the kidneys fail, the blood must be cleaned
artificially with special equipment. The two major forms of dialysis are ras Haemodialysis - the use of a machine to clean wastes from the blood
after the kidneys have failed. The blood travels through tubes to a dialyser, a machine that removes wastes and extra fluid. The cleaned Dietitian - a health care professional who advises people about meal planning,
weight control, and diabetes management. A registered dietitian (RD) has more D-phenylalanine derivative - a class of oral medicine for type 2 diabetes that
lowers blood glucose levels by helping the pancreas make more insulin right
after meals. (Generic name: nateglinide.)1 Endocrine gland - a group of specialized cells that release hormones into the
blood. For example, the islets in the pancreas, which secrete insulin, are
endocrine glands.1
Endocrinologist - a doctor who treats people who have endocrine gland
problems such as diabetes.1
Enzyme - protein made by the body that brings about a chemical reaction, for
example, the enzymes produced by the gut to aid digestion.1
Continued overleaf
Glossary of terms
Erectile dysfunction - See impotence.1
Fasting blood glucose test - a check of a person's blood glucose level after
the person has not eaten for 8 to 12 hours (usually overnight). This test is used
to diagnose pre-diabetes and diabetes. It is also used to monitor people with
Fat - 1. One of the three main nutrients in food. Foods that provide fat are
butter, margarine, salad dressing, oil, nuts, meat, poultry, fish, and some dairy
products. 2. Excess calories are stored as body fat, providing the body with a
reserve supply of energy and other functions.1
Glomerulus - a tiny set of looping blood vessels in the kidney where the blood
is filtered and waste products are removed.1
Glucagon - a hormone produced by the alpha cells in the pancreas. It raises
blood glucose. An injectable form of glucagon, available by prescription, may be
used to treat severe hypoglyaemia.1
Glucose - One of the simplest forms of sugar.1
Glycaemic index - a ranking of carbohydrate-containing foods, based on the
food's effect on blood glucose compared with a standard reference food.1
Glycogen - the form of glucose found in the liver and muscles.1
Glycosuria - the presence of glucose in the urine.1
Glycosylated haemoglobin (HBA1C) - a test that measures a person's average
blood glucose level over the past 2 to 3 months. The test shows the amount of glucose that sticks to the red blood cell, which is proportional to the amount of Haemoglobin - the part of a red blood cell that carries oxygen throughout the
Heart attack - see myocardial infarction.
Hormone - a chemical produced in one part of the body and released into the
blood to trigger or regulate particular functions of the body. For example,
insulin is a hormone made in the pancreas that tells other cells when to use
glucose for energy. Synthetic hormones, made for use as medicines, can be the
same or different from those made in the body.1
Continued overleaf
Glossary of terms
Hyperglycaemia - excessive blood glucose. Fasting hyperglycaemia is blood
glucose above a desirable level after a person has fasted for at least 8 hours.
Postprandial hyperglycaemia is blood glucose above a desirable level 1 to 2
hours after a person has eaten.1
Hyperinsulinaemia - a condition in which the level of insulin in the blood is
higher than normal. Caused by overproduction of insulin by the body. Related to
insulin resistance.1
Hyperlipidaemia - higher than normal fat and cholesterol levels in the blood.1
Hypertension - a condition present when blood flows through the blood vessels
with a force greater than normal. Also called high blood pressure.
Hypertension can strain the heart, damage blood vessels, and increase the risk
of heart attack, stroke, kidney problems, and death.1
Hypoglycaemia (Hypo) - a condition that occurs when one's blood glucose is
lower than normal, usually lower than 4 mmol/l. Signs include hunger,
nervousness, shakiness, perspiration, dizziness or light-headedness, sleepiness, and confusion. If left untreated, hypoglycaemia may lead to unconsciousness. ra Hypoglycaemia is treated by consuming a carbohydrate-rich food such as a
glucose tablet or juice. It may also be treated with an injection of glucagon if
so the person is unconscious or unable to swallow. Also called an insulin reaction.1
G Hypotension
- low blood pressure or a sudden drop in blood pressure.
Hypotension may occur when a person rises quickly from a sitting or reclining position, causing dizziness or fainting.1 OIT Hypo warning signals - When the level of glucose in a person's blood falls too
low the person often experiences 'warning signs', which occur as the body tries to raise the blood glucose level. These warning signs vary from person to person, but often include feeling shaky, sweating, tingling in the lips, going pale, heart pounding, confusion and irritability.2 Impaired fasting glucose (IFG) - a condition in which a blood glucose test,
taken after an 8- to 12-hour fast, shows a level of glucose higher than normal
but not high enough for a diagnosis of diabetes. IFG, also called pre-diabetes,
is a level of 6.1 mmol/l to 7 mmol/l. Most people with pre-diabetes are at
increased risk for developing type 2 diabetes.1
Impaired glucose tolerance (IGT) - a condition in which blood glucose levels
are higher than normal but are not high enough for a diagnosis of diabetes.
Continued overleaf
Glossary of terms
IGT, also called pre-diabetes, is a level of 7.8 mmol/l to 11.1 mmol/l 2 hours
after the start of an oral glucose tolerance test. Most people with pre-
diabetes are at increased risk for developing type 2 diabetes. Other names
for IGT that are no longer used are "borderline", "subclinical,", "chemical," or
"latent" diabetes.1
Impotence - the inability to get or maintain an erection for sexual activity.
Also called erectile dysfunction.1
Insulin - a hormone that helps the body use glucose for energy. The beta cells
of the pancreas make insulin. When the body cannot make enough insulin,
insulin is taken by injection or through use of an insulin pump.1
Insulin resistance - the body's inability to respond to and use the insulin it
produces. Insulin resistance may be linked to obesity, hypertension, and high
levels of fat in the blood.1
Islets - groups of cells located in the pancreas that make hormones that help
the body break down and use food. For example, alpha cells make glucagon and
beta cells make insulin. Also called islets of Langerhans.1
Ketoacidosis - see diabetic ketoacidosis.
Ketone - a chemical produced when there is a shortage of insulin in the blood
and the body breaks down body fat for energy. High levels of ketones can lead
to diabetic ketoacidosis and coma. Sometimes referred to as ketone bodies.1
Ketonuria - a condition occurring when ketones are present in the urine, a
warning sign of diabetic ketoacidosis.1
Ketosis - ketone build-up in the body that may lead to diabetic ketoacidosis.
Signs of ketosis are nausea, vomiting, and stomach pain.1 Kidney disease - see nephropathy.
Kidney failure - a chronic condition in which the body retains fluid and harmful
wastes build up because the kidneys no longer work properly. A person with
kidney failure needs dialysis or a kidney transplant. Also called end-stage renal
disease or ESRD.1
Kidneys - the two bean-shaped organs that filter wastes from the blood and
form urine. The kidneys are located near the middle of the back. They send
urine to the bladder.1
Continued overleaf
Glossary of terms
Lipids - a term for fat in the body. Lipids can be broken down by the body and
used for energy.1
Lipid profile - a blood test that measures total cholesterol, triglycerides, and
HDL cholesterol. LDL cholesterol is then calculated from the results. A lipid
profile is one measure of a person's risk of cardiovascular disease.1
Liver - an organ in the body that changes food into energy, removes alcohol and
poisons from the blood, and makes bile, a substance that breaks down fats and
helps rid the body of wastes.1
Macrovascular disease - disease of the large blood vessels, such as those
found in the heart. Lipids and blood clots build up in the large blood vessels and
can cause atherosclerosis, coronary heart disease, stroke, and peripheral
vascular disease
Meglitinide - a class of oral medicine for type 2 diabetes that lowers blood
by helping the pancreas make more insulin right after meals. (Generic
yr Metabolic syndrome - the tendency of several conditions to occur together,
as including obesity, insulin resistance, diabetes or pre-diabetes, hypertension,
so and high lipids.1
G Metabolism
- the term for the way cells chemically change food so that it can
be used to store or use energy and make the proteins, fats, and sugars needed
OI Metformin - an oral medicine used to treat type 2 diabetes. It lowers blood
glucose by reducing the amount of glucose produced by the liver and helping
the body respond better to the insulin made in the pancreas. Belongs to the
class of medicines called biguanides. (Brand names: Glucophage, Glucophage XR; Microalbumin - small amounts of the protein called albumin in the urine
Microvascular disease - disease of the smallest blood vessels, such as those
found in the eyes, nerves, and kidneys. The walls of the vessels become
abnormally thick but weak. Then they bleed, leak protein, and slow the flow of
blood to the cells.1
Mitochondria - The powerhouses of the cell that convert glucose into energy.2
Continued overleaf
Glossary of terms
mmol/l - millimoles per litre, a unit of measure that shows the concentration of a
substance in a specific amount of fluid.1
Mononeuropathy - neuropathy affecting a single nerve.1
Myocardial infarction - a sudden interruption in the blood supply to the heart
because of narrowed or blocked blood vessels. Also called a heart attack.1
Nephropathy - disease of the kidneys. Hyperglycaemia and hypertension can
damage the kidneys' glomeruli. When the kidneys are damaged, protein leaks out
of the kidneys into the urine. Damaged kidneys can no longer remove waste and
extra fluids from the bloodstream.1
Neuropathy - disease of the nervous system. The three major forms in people
with diabetes are peripheral neuropathy, autonomic neuropathy, and
mononeuropathy. The most common form is peripheral neuropathy, which affects
mainly the legs and feet.1
Obesity - a condition in which a greater than normal amount of fat is in the body;
more severe than overweight; having a body mass index of 30 or more.1
Ophthalmologist - a medical doctor who diagnoses and treats all eye diseases and
eye disorders. Opthalmologists can also prescribe glasses and contact lenses.1 Optometrist - a primary eye care provider who prescribes glasses and contact
lenses. Optometrists can diagnose and treat certain eye conditions and diseases.1 Oral glucose tolerance test (OGTT) - a test to diagnose pre-diabetes and
diabetes. The OGTT is given by a health care professional after an overnight fast. A blood sample is taken, then the patient drinks a high-glucose beverage.
Blood samples are taken at intervals for 2 to 3 hours. Test results are compared with a standard and show how the body uses glucose over time.1 Oral hypoglycaemic agents - medicines taken by mouth by people with type 2
diabetes to keep blood glucose levels as close to normal as possible. Classes of
oral hypoglycaemic agents are alpha-glucosidase inhibitors, biguanides, D-
phenylalanine derivatives, meglitinides, sulfonylureas, and thiazolidinediones.1
Overweight - an above-normal body weight; having a body mass index of 25 to
Pancreas - an organ that makes insulin and enzymes for digestion. The pancreas is
located behind the lower part of the stomach and is about the size of a hand.1
Continued overleaf
Glossary of terms
Peripheral neuropathy - nerve damage that affects the feet, legs, or hands.
Peripheral neuropathy causes pain, numbness, or a tingling feeling.1
Peripheral vascular disease (PVD) - a disease of the large blood vessels of the
arms, legs, and feet. PVD may occur when major blood vessels in these areas
are blocked and do not receive enough blood. The signs of PVD are aching pains
and slow-healing foot sores.1
Plaque - a fatty deposit on the inner lining of an arterial wall, characteristic of
Polydipsia - excessive thirst; may be a sign of diabetes.1
Polyphagia - excessive hunger; may be a sign of diabetes.1
Polyuria - excessive urination; may be a sign of diabetes.1
Postprandial blood glucose - the blood glucose level taken 1 to 2 hours after
yr Pre-diabetes - a condition in which blood glucose levels are higher than normal
but are not high enough for a diagnosis of diabetes. People with pre-diabetes ss are at increased risk for developing type 2 diabetes and for heart disease and
ol stroke. Other names for pre-diabetes are impaired glucose tolerance and
impaired fasting glucose.1
:N Protein - 1. One of the three main nutrients in food. Foods that provide protein
include meat, poultry, fish, cheese, milk, dairy products, eggs, and dried beans. 2. Proteins are also used in the body for cell structure, hormones such as
insulin, and other functions.1
Proteinuria - the presence of protein in the urine, indicating that the kidneys
Renal - having to do with the kidneys. A renal disease is a disease of the
NI kidneys. Renal failure means the kidneys have stopped working.1
Retina - the light-sensitive layer of tissue that lines the back of the eye.1
Retinopathy - see diabetic retinopathy.1
Risk factor - anything that raises the chances of a person developing a
disease, e.g. age.1
Continued overleaf
Glossary of terms
Saturated fat - a type of fat that is generally solid at room temperature, and
is found in animal products such as whole milk, eggs, and meats. Saturated fats
are the biggest dietary cause of high LDL levels ("bad cholesterol").
Secondary diabetes mellitus - a type of diabetes caused by another disease
or certain drugs or chemicals.1
Side effects - the unintended action(s) of a drug.1
Starch - another name for carbohydrate, one of the three main nutrients in
Statins - Any of a class of lipid-lowering drugs that reduce serum cholesterol
levels by limiting the amount of cholesterol the body can make.
Stroke - condition caused by damage to blood vessels in the brain; may cause
loss of ability to speak or to move parts of the body.1
Sugar - 1. A class of carbohydrates with a sweet taste; includes glucose,
fructose, and sucrose. 2. A term used to refer to blood glucose.1
Sulphonylurea - a class of oral medicine for type 2 diabetes that lowers blood
glucose by helping the pancreas make more insulin and by helping the body
better use the insulin it makes. (Generic names: acetohexamide, chlorpropamide, glimepiride, glipizide, glyburide, tolazamide, tolbutamide.)1 Syndrome x - see insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome.
Thiazolidinedione - a class of oral medicine for type 2 diabetes that helps
insulin take glucose from the blood into the cells for energy by making cells
more sensitive to insulin. (Generic names: pioglitazone and rosiglitazone.)1 Triglycerides - the storage form of fat in the body. High triglyceride levels
may occur when diabetes is uncontrolled.1 Thyroid gland - a gland in the front of the neck that produces hormones to
Type 1 diabetes mellitus - a condition characterized by high blood glucose
levels caused by a total lack of insulin. Occurs when the body's immune system
attacks the insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas and destroys them.
The pancreas then produces little or no insulin. Type 1 diabetes develops most
often in young people but can appear in adults.1
Continued overleaf
Glossary of terms
Type 2 diabetes mellitus - a condition characterized by high blood glucose
levels caused by either a lack of insulin or the body's inability to use insulin
efficiently. Type 2 diabetes develops most often in middle-aged and older
adults but can appear in young people.1
Unsaturated fat - a type of fat that can help to lower blood cholesterol when
used in place of saturated fats. There are two types: mono-unsaturated and
polyunsaturated. Most liquid vegetable oils are unsaturated.
Urea - a waste product found in the blood that results from the normal
breakdown of protein in the liver. Urea is normally removed from the blood by
the kidneys and then excreted in the urine.1
Urine - the liquid waste product filtered from the blood by the kidneys,
stored in the bladder, and expelled from the body by the act of urinating.1
Urine testing - also called urinalysis; a test of a urine sample to diagnose
diseases of the urinary system and other body systems. In people with
ra 1. Glucose, a sign of diabetes or other diseases.
2. Protein, a sign of kidney damage, or nephropathy. (Also see albuminuria.)
so 3. White blood cells, a sign of urinary tract infection.
4. Ketones, a sign of diabetic ketoacidosis or other conditions.
Urine may also be checked for signs of bleeding. Some tests use a single urine sample. For others, 24-hour collection may be needed. And sometimes a sample is "cultured" to see exactly what type of bacteria grows.1 T
NI 1. National Institutes of Health. Diabetes Dictionary. National Diabetes

Clearing House (NDIC): A service of the National Institute of Diabetes
and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), NIH.
Website (

2. Diabetes UK. Glossary. Website (


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