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Glossary of diabetes terms


A1c - see hemoglobin A1c.

A1c-Derived Average Glucose (ADAG) Study  - study conducted to define the mathematical relationship between HbA1c and average blood glucose levels.

adult-onset diabetes - see type 2 diabetes.

albumin - protein found in blood plasma and urine.

action times - length of time a type of insulin takes to begin acting and how long its effect lasts.  See duration, onset and peak time.

amputate - to surgically cut off all or part of a limb.

animal insulin - made from the ground-up pancreases of pigs and cows.

assay - analysis to determine the presence and quantity of a substance.

autonomic neuropathy - damage to nerves that control automatic processes, such as heart rate or digestion.


biosynthetic insulin - man-made insulin.

blood glucose - sugar made by the body from food.  It is absorbed into the body's cells with the help of insulin.

blood glucose meter - small machine which estimates the level of glucose in a blood sample.

blood glucose testing - means of measuring the level of glucose in blood.  Home blood glucose testing is done by pricking ones finger with a lancet, putting a drop of blood on a test strip and inserting the strip in a blood glucose meter for a reading.

blood pressure - force of blood within arteries.

blood sugar - see blood glucose.

bolus - extra insulin taken to cover an expected rise in blood glucose.

borderline diabetes - see impaired glucose tolerance.

brittle diabetes - when ones blood glucose level is prone to shift quickly from high to low and vice versa.

bunion - bump on the first joint of the big toe. Caused by inflammation of a sac of fluid under the skin.


callus - hardened area of skin, most often on the foot.

calorie - measure that expresses the energy value of food.

carbohydrate - type of food.  Mainly starches and sugars derived from plants.

cardiologist - physician specializing in the heart and circulatory system.

cataract - eye abnormality characterized by opacity of the lens.

certified diabetes educator (CDE) - health professional who teaches diabetics how to manage their disease.

Charcot foot - destruction of the joints and soft tissue of the foot.

cholesterol - substance made by the liver that is an essential part of body functioning.  Also comes from animal foods.  Having too much cholesterol can lead to atherosclerosis.

coma - prolonged unconsciousness with a lack of response to stimuli.

corn - thickening of the skin on feet or hands.

creatine - amino acid constituent of the muscles.  Used to store energy for muscular contraction.

creatinine - formed by the metabolism of creatine and normally excreted in the urine as a waste.  The rate which it is cleared by the kidneys is a measure of renal function.


dawn phenomenon - sudden increase in blood glucose levels in the early morning.

DCCT (Diabetes Control and Complications Trial) - major clinical study conducted from 1983-1993.  Demonstrated that keeping blood glucose levels as close to normal as possible slows the onset and progression of the eye, kidney, and nerve damage caused by diabetes.

depression - state of emotional dejection and withdrawal not warranted by objective reason.

diabetes insipidus - type of diabetes unrelated to diabetes mellitus.

diabetes mellitus - disorder that interferes with the bodily process that converts food into energy.  It is characterized by poor production or utilization of insulin and results in excessive amounts of glucose in the blood.

diabetic ketoacidosis - dangerous condition resulting from hyperglycemia, dehydration, and excess acid.

diabetic osteopathy - loss of foot bone.

diabetic retinopathy - retina damage stemming from the growth of very small blood vessels. 

dialysis - artificially providing the functions of the kidney through the use of a machine.

diet plan - see meal plan.

dietitian - nutrition expert who helps people with special health needs plan what they eat. 

diuretic - drug that increases the amount of urine excreted.

duration - length of time in which insulin continues to lower blood glucose.


eAG (estimated Average Glucose) - mathematical formula derived from the ADAG study that expresses HbA1c levels in the same units as those used on home glucose meters (e.g., mg/dl).

edema - fluid build-up in body tissue.

endocrine gland - organ such as the thyroid, adrenal and pituitary glands, that secretes substances into the body.

endocrinologist - physician specializing in the endocrine system.

end-stage renal disease (ESRD) - final phase of kidney disease.  Usually requires dialysis or kidney transplantation.

erectile dysfunction - inability achieve or maintain an erection of the penis.  Common in diabetic men due to nerve damage.

exchange lists - food groupings constructed to help people on special diets.  One can substitute a food serving in one group for another in the same group.


fasting blood glucose test - measurement of blood glucose at a time when food consumption does not affect glucose level.  Usually done in the morning before one has first eaten.

fiber - food that passes through the digestive system without being digested.

food exchange - see exchange lists.

foot problems - sores, bunions, calluses, etc.  Of special concern to diabetics due to diminished feeling in the feet.

fractional urine - urine collected during a specified period of time, for example from breakfast to lunch.


gastroparesis - nerve damage that affects the stomach and intestines. 

gestational diabetes - diabetes occurring in pregnant women who have not previously been diagnosed with have diabetes.  Usually disappears following delivery.

geocities chart - informal name for DCCT based HbA1c conversion chart that appeared on our former site.  Same as Chart no. 4

glaucoma - increased internal pressure within the eye.  Can cause vision impairment.

glomerular filtration rate (GFR) - measure of the ability of the kidneys to filter blood.

glucagon - hormone that increases blood glucose.  Often injected when a diabetic has lost consciousness due to low blood glucose.

glucose - see blood glucose.

glucose tolerance test - blood test to determine the presence of diabetes.

glycated hemoglobin test - see hemoglobin A1c.

glycemic index - measure of the effect that a food has on blood glucose.


HbA1c - see hemoglobin A1c.

hematocrit - proportion of blood volume occupied by red blood cells.

hemoglobin - substance in the red blood cells that supplies oxygen to the cells of the body.

hemoglobin A1c  - test that reveals the average amount of glucose in the blood over the previous three months.

high blood glucose - see hyperglycemia.

high blood pressure - see hypertension.

home blood glucose monitoring - see blood glucose testing.

honeymoon phase - temporary cessation of high blood glucose that occurs in some newly diagnosed type 1 diabetics.  Some insulin secretion resumes for a period of time, before stopping again.

hormone - chemical released by one of the endocrine glands or tissues.  Hormones travel through the blood to various areas of the body where they contribute to normal functioning.

human insulin - man-made insulin that is very similar to the insulin produced within the body.

hyperglycemia - high blood glucose.

hypertension - blood circulates through the blood vessels with abnormally higher force.

hypoglycemia - low blood sugar.

hypotension - blood circulates through the blood vessels with abnormally lower force.


IFCC - International Federation of Clinical Chemistry and Laboratory Medicine.

impaired glucose tolerance (IGT) - condition in which blood glucose levels are higher than normal, but so high as to indicate diabetes.

incontinence - inability to restrain the discharge of urine or feces.

impotence - see erectile dysfunction.

injection - using a needle and syringe to insert liquid into the body. 

injection site rotation - rotating the areas where one injects insulin in order to avoid causing lumps or dents.

injection sites - places on the body where one can inject insulin in the easiest manner.

insulin - hormone produced in the pancreas that regulates the metabolism of glucose.

insulin allergy - occurs when one has a bad reaction to taking insulin.  Skin often becomes itchy or red.

insulin dependent diabetes - see type 1 diabetes.

insulin induced atrophy - small, harmless dents in the skin caused by injecting a needle in the same place.

insulin induced hypertrophy - small lumps under the skin caused when a needle is injected in the same spot.

insulin mixture - short-acting insulin together with intermediate or long-acting insulin.

insulin pen - injection device about the size of a pen.

insulin pump - a device which releases a steady flow of insulin.  About the size of a beeper, it is often worn on a belt.

insulin reaction - see hypoglycemia.

insulin receptor - area on a cell that allows it to bind with insulin and take glucose from the blood.

insulin resistance - partial blocking insulin's effect.

insulin shock - severe condition when ones blood glucose level drops too quickly.


jet injector - device that propels insulin through the skin.

juvenile diabetes - see type 1 diabetes.


ketoacidosis - see diabetic ketoacidosis.

ketone - chemical produced during ketosis.  Can accumulate in the blood due to inadequate insulin.

ketosis - metabolism of fat.

kidneys - two bean-shaped organs in the abdominal cavity that form and excrete urine and regulate electrolytes.


lab test - analysis of a sample of blood or urine for indication of one or more conditions. 

lancet - fine, sharp-pointed blade or needle for pricking the skin.

late-onset diabetes - see type 2 diabetes.

log - means of recording and analyzing blood glucose readings and other diabetes related information.

low blood glucose - see hypoglycemia.


macular edema - swelling of an area near the center of the retina.

meal plan - guide for controlling the intake of calories, carbohydrates, proteins, fats, fiber, vitamins, etc.

metabolic syndrome - condition that increases the risk of diabetes and heart disease.  Occurs when three or more of the following exist at the same time: excess fat around waist, hypertension, abnormal cholesterol levels, resistance to insulin.

metabolism - the bodily process that breaks down food, creates energy and created and produces wastes.

mg/dl - milligrams per deciliter. 

mixed dose - combining two kinds of insulin in one injection.

mmol/l - millimoles per liter.

mmol/mol - millimoles per mole.

mood swing - alternation of ones emotional state between euphoria and depression.


nephrologist - physician specializing in the kidneys.

nephropathy - diabetic kidney disease.

NGSP - National Glycohemoglobin Standardization Program.

neuropathy - diabetic nerve damage.

neuropathy - diabetic nerve damage.

non-insulin-dependent diabetes - see type 2 diabetes.

noninvasive blood glucose monitoring - method of measuring blood glucose levels without pricking the finger to obtain a blood sample. 

NPH insulin - type of intermediate-acting insulin.

nutritionist - see dietitian.


obesity - condition of being very overweight.

onset - length of time it takes for insulin to reach the blood and begin lowering blood glucose levels.

ophthalmologist - physician specializing in treatment of the eyes.


pancreas - abdominal gland that produces insulin.

peak time - time period when the effect of insulin is at its maximum.

peripheral neuropathy - nerve damage most often in the feet and legs.

peripheral vascular disease (PVD) - condition that affects blood vessels, especially of the extremities.

podiatrist - physician specializing in foot problems.

point system - meal planning scheme that uses points to rate food. 

protein - food source supplying essential amino acids to the body.  Found in foods such as meat, fish and eggs as well as legumes and dairy products.


rebound - see Somogyi effect.

record keeping - see log.

regular insulin - a fast acting insulin.

renal - kidney related.

retina - center part of the back lining of the eye that senses light. It has many small blood vessels that are sometimes harmed when a person has had diabetes for a long time.

retinopathy - diabetic eye disease.


secondary diabetes - diabetes caused by another disease or drugs taken.

SMBG (self-monitoring of blood glucose) - see blood glucose testing.

Somogyi effect - swing from a very low level of blood glucose to a high one.  Usually occurs after an untreated insulin reaction during the night or early morning.

split dosing - dividing insulin dosage into two or more injections over the course of a day.

stress - response by the body to stimuli such as fear and pain.

sugar - sweet tasting carbohydrate such as fructose, glucose, lactose, and sucrose.

syringe - a small tubular device fitted a rubber bulb.  Used for drawing in and ejecting fluid.


test strip - a small strip used in conjunction with a meter to test blood glucose levels.

type 1 diabetes - condition marked by high blood glucose levels and due to a complete lack of insulin production in the pancreas.  Occurs most often in juveniles, but can develop in adults.

type 2 diabetes - condition characterized by high blood glucose levels and due to either a lack of insulin or an inability to use insulin efficiently.  Occurs most often in adults but can develop in juveniles.


ulcer - deep sore or a break in the skin.

UKPDS (UK Prospective Diabetes Study) - 20 year study (1977-1997) of patients with newly diagnosed type 2 diabetes.  Showed that complications of type 2 diabetes could be reduced by improving blood glucose and/or blood pressure control.

unconsciousness - absence of awareness and sensation.

unit of insulin - basic measure of insulin.  Most often expressed as U-100 which means 100 units of insulin per milliliter (ml) of liquid.

unstable diabetes - see brittle diabetes.

urine testing - checking urine for ketones.

urologist - physician specializing in the urinary tract.


National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse. "Diabetes Dictionary."  US National Institutes of Health Publication No. 073016, October 2006.

Page created September 8, 2009 and last updated August 5, 2011

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