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Understanding diabetes jargon

When speaking to your doctor about diabetes, some of the terminology can be confusing. Here's a quick guide to what all the medical mumbo jumbo means.

  • Basal bolus - part of an injectable insulin regime. Basal insulins last for a long time but work slowly. Once or twice daily doses of these are complemented by top-up bolus doses of rapid-acting insulin to reduce high blood sugar when you eat.

  • Blood glucose meter - machine using test strips to estimate blood sugar level

  • BM - an outdated term. This abbreviation was used for a paper strip designed to estimate blood sugar levels. It has been replaced, but you may still hear your 'blood sugar' measurement referred to as 'BMs'.

  • Blood sugar level - a value, in mmol/litre, of the sugar content (glucose) of your blood. Used in both diagnosis and monitoring of disease.

  • Blood sugar targets - the agreed target range for your blood sugar level as part of your treatment

  • Carbohydrate 'carb' counting - the process of monitoring food intake to help predict insulin need. Very useful in planning effective treatment, and gives you more power in managing your condition.

  • Diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) -a dangerous complication of type 1 (and rarely type 2) diabetes, where your body runs out of insulin and breaks down fatty acids instead. This causes toxic ketones to build up and the normal pH (acid-base balance) of your blood is affected.

  • Diabetic nephropathy - kidney damage caused by long-term high blood sugar levels in diabetes.

  • Diabetic neuropathy - a catch-all term for nerve damage caused by long-term high blood sugar levels in diabetes. Can lead to pain and to amputations in severe cases.

  • Diabetic retinopathy - damage to the retina (back of the eye) caused by high blood glucose and vascular disease. Causes gradual loss of vision.

  • Diabetologist/Endocrinologist - different terms for a doctor specialising in diabetes.

  • Glucose - the basic sugar used by your body for energy. Measured in the blood using 'test strips' and a 'blood glucose meter.'

  • Hba1c - a blood test used to estimate average blood sugar levels and control over the last three months.

  • Hyperglycaemia - a state of high blood sugar (high blood glucose).

  • Hypoglycaemia - a potentially dangerous state of low blood sugar (low blood glucose) - a possible side-effect of diabetes treatments, especially insulin and sulfonylureas.

  • Impaired glucose tolerance/pre-diabetes - a state of high blood sugar, not high enough for a diagnosis of type 2 diabetes but meaning you are at higher risk of type 2 diabetes and its complications.

  • Insulin - a hormone required to process sugar in the body.

  • Insulin pen - a delivery device for injectable insulin. Comes in variable strengths.

  • Insulin pump - a delivery device for constant or pulsed insulin injection. Attached through a tiny tube under your skin and worn 24 hours a day.

  • Ketosis - the build-up of a toxic substance called ketones caused by your body breaking down fatty acids for energy when it runs out of insulin. Rare in type 2 diabetes, it can affect people with type 1 diabetes if they do not take enough insulin, are generally unwell, etc.

  • Ketotic coma (diabetic coma) - an extremely dangerous state where blood toxicity caused by ketosis leads to unconsciousness, and if untreated, death.

  • Pancreas - a body organ that produces insulin and other hormones.

  • Peripheral neuropathy - nerve damage to the toes, feet, fingers and hands. Occurs progressively with diabetes if blood glucose levels are high over a long period

  • Rapid-acting insulin - a quick-acting dose of insulin taken with meals. Mimics natural Insulin spike. Taken as part of your treatment regime.

  • Type 1 diabetes - caused by the complete absence of insulin, a hormone secreted by the pancreas to metabolise glucose (sugars).

  • Type 2 diabetes - is caused by a gradual wearing out of cellular transporters for glucose by a long period of elevated blood sugar (hyperglycaemia).

  • Quick-acting carbohydrate - a form of carbohydrate designed to replace blood sugars quickly in the case of sudden hypoglycaemia. Can include sugary drinks, glucose tablets or sweets (candy). Injectable forms exist.

Article history

The information on this page is peer reviewed by qualified clinicians.

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